Talking CLL with Dr Mary Ann Anderson | Leukaemia Foundation

Talking CLL with Dr Mary Ann Anderson

Dr Mary Ann Anderson is one of only a few researchers who has seen their work in the lab translate to a frontline therapy for blood cancer. 

Venetoclax targets a protein which is overexpressed in cancer cells but not in normal cells,” said Dr Anderson, a haematologist and clinician scientist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute and Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. 

We chatted to her at the Leukaemia Foundation’s Blood Cancer Conference in Melbourne in October 2018 about her involvement in pioneering the drug, venetoclax (Venclexta®) as a breakthrough treatment for CLL.  

This drug causes the cancer cells to melt away without causing too much toxicity and has none of the side-effects of traditional chemotherapy. 
“We see 80% of patients, whose disease has relapsed after previous treatment or is refractory, actually respond to venetoclax and many of these patients have had years of good quality life that they wouldn’t have otherwise had,” said Dr Anderson. 

“The next thing on the horizon”, Dr Anderson says, is CAR T-cell therapy and immunotherapies to treat people who haven’t responded to new drugs or traditional chemotherapy. 

The current rate of growth of new treatments for CLL means patients have “a bewildering array of treatment options, all with different pros and cons”.  

“Patients need to be informed and educated about their disease, about their options and how they can negotiate the health system to get a good outcome,” she said.