Listen to the full episode:



Using Real World Data to Improve Blood Cancer Treatments with Dr. Gwen Nichols


Almost 10% of the world’s population suffers from a type of blood cancer. And despite popular opinion, there are actually hundreds of different types of blood cancer, not just leukemia and lymphoma.

But are we doing everything in our power when developing clinical trials to improve cancer treatment? Could we include diversity and make trials more accessible to everyone? Our guest today thinks we have more work to do in the blood cancer space.

In this episode of the Real World Talk podcast, our host Miruna Sasu welcomes Dr. Gwen Nichols, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). We discuss the importance of making clinical trials more diverse and feasible for patients. We also get into Dr. Gwen’s predictions for the future and why she thinks there’s hope for earlier cancer detection and prevention.


  • [00:55] Introduction — The host, Miruna Sasu, introduces Dr. Gwen Nichols, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). She plays a critical role in advancing cures through a unique combination of clinical, academic, and pharmaceutical experience.
  • [02:21] Blood cancers are hundreds of different types of cancer all bundled together — Blood cancers are not just leukemia and lymphoma, despite what people often think. And as science advances and we learn more about blood cancer, it’s easier to subdivide it into categories and understand each individual type of cancer better.
  • [03:54] The three most exciting areas in the blood cancer space — According to Dr. Gwen Nichols, blood cancer research leads the way for other therapies. It helps understand different tumors and the biological drivers better, leading to a better subdivision of treatments.
  • [07:12] LLS is a research organization that also has a range of educational and support services for patients — LLS is much more than a research organization. According to Dr. Gwen, science is not science if the patients who need it don’t have access to it. “If you only do basic science and you get a lot of great publications that just sit on a shelf, that doesn’t help a single person. So you need to be involved in the clinical part and in moving those therapies and making sure people have access to those.”
  • [09:40] The importance of making clinical trials more accessible for patients — It’s important to always have in mind the end patient when designing clinical trials. The goal is to make them more feasible and accessible for patients all around the country. “Many of the patients who want to participate come to that center. But when they hear that they’ve got to go back and forth, multiple times sometimes a week, in order to participate in the trial, it just doesn’t make sense.”
  • [14:58] We need to base our cancer treatments on real world data — Real world data can help understand what a drug or a treatment can do to an average patient and to those that don’t necessarily fit the mold of clinical trial participants.
  • [25:14] Differences between registries and electronic medical records — When dealing with a registry, it’s up to the patient to remember all side effects, disease type, etc. On the other hand, electronic health records are handled by health professionals.
  • [27:04] Our understanding of the immune system and early detections of cancer will improve in the years to come — Dr. Gwen talks about her predictions for the future of blood cancer treatments and patient experience. “All of my career, I’ve been saying, ‘No, there’s no way to prevent these blood cancers.’ I’m hopeful that over the next years, that’ll become a reality.”

Key Points

  • We need to make clinical trials more accessible to cancer patients. Dr. Gwen talks about the importance of clinical trials for developing effective drugs and blood cancer treatments. Despite the fact that trials are extremely beneficial, it is still a challenge for some patients to participate sometimes due to different factors. It’s up to those designing the clinical trials to think about the end patient more. “Does that test really need to be done? And does it have to be done only at a big academic medical center? Are there things we can do to make trials more accessible to more people?”
  • Real world data is important. When developing cancer treatments, we need to base them more on real-world data. Using real-world data can help ensure safer and more effective therapies. However, Dr. Gwen says clinical trials are often limited in terms of participants. “We’re hoping to change that, but in the meanwhile, drug developers, and I know because I’ve been one, their mind is set to say, ‘I need to move this drug so that it’s available to patients.’ The best way to do that is to choose patients who are going to tolerate the drug and will prove the point that the drug works. The problem is that’s not what the average patient is like.”
  • Predictions for the future. Some of Dr. Gwen’s predictions and hopes for the future include cancer prevention, possible early detection, and a better understanding of the immune system. Even though she wasn’t as hopeful about prevention before, she thinks it’s finally on the horizon, and we can expect to see major developments in cancer prevention in the near future. “We’re at the precipice of having some way to do early detection. Our next step is to then say, ‘What do we do to prevent that from becoming full-blown leukemia?’ And so, I think that prevention is on the horizon. It’s very early, but there’s some hope.”