Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Becoming Patient #1 Part 1: The Healthyist Talks with T.J. Sharpe of philly.com

Becoming Patient #1 Part 1: The Healthyist Talks with T.J. Sharpe of philly.com

Managing Editor

People participate in clinical trials for many reasons. Some do it because they feel it is their best treatment option. Some volunteer because they want to help others with the condition. Regardless of the reason, volunteering to participate in a clinical trial is a personal decision, one that we here at MMG deeply respect.

The Healthyist staff was recently lucky enough to speak with T.J. Sharpe about his experience participating in a clinical trial and his decision to share his story with the public.

T.J. was the first patient in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, and was the first person worldwide to receive a specific sequence of treatments to fight melanoma. He is currently in a second clinical trial at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, FL, receiving an anti-PD-1 medication.

T.J.'s blog, Patient #1, appears on philly.com, where he provides updates on his fight against cancer and invaluable information about clinical trials.

In part 1 of this two-part series, we discuss his decision to participate in and stick with a clinical trial.

What made you say "yes" to a clinical trial?

Several things factored in the decision. First and most important, we received good guidance from multiple sources that the best treatments for stage IV melanoma were not yet approved but currently in trials. I was extremely fortunate that there was significant work being done in metastatic melanoma at the time of my diagnosis.  

I had worked as an IT consultant early in my career for several pharma companies…whose drugs were part of my first and second clinical trials. I knew from that experience how the clinical trial process worked and there was no fear or hesitation to enroll.

Finally, and related to the first point, we set as a goal a durable long-term response. Comparing the current melanoma options to the clinical trial options, both my doctor and I felt like the trials by far gave us the best chance of achieving that goal. 

Patient retention is often a challenge for clinical trials; did you ever consider dropping out? Why or why not?"

The only consideration I had of dropping out was in the second, PD-1 trial, which had a control arm of [a certain kind of] chemotherapy, which I was very against. We actually made our selection of specific trials based on the one that had a compassionate crossover to the study drug, should I be randomized onto the chemotherapy arm. Luckily, that was a choice we never had to make. 

On the first trial, we were given the option of dropping out when a diverticulitis made it necessary to get a colostomy bag. Rather than drop out and forgo one promising option, we chose to stick with the trial even with a hiccup that delayed treatment a month and gave me the colostomy for over two years.

We will continue our conversation with T.J. next week, when we talk about patient education regarding clinical trial participation.

You can read more about T.J.'s journey at philly.com or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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