On the day Ken Bishop received a life-threatening cancer diagnosis, he learned about an exciting opportunity: a clinical research trial.
In November 2016, Dr. Cesar Rodriguez, assistant professor of hematology and oncology at Wake Forest Baptist Health’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, informed Ken that he had multiple myeloma. He also offered him an alternative therapy that was not yet approved by the FDA, but looked promising.
“He told me they had a clinical trial that was getting ready to open,” Ken says. “He said, ‘We think it’s going to go a long way toward learning new ways to treat multiple myeloma and potentially improve health outcomes.’”
As a Comprehensive Cancer Center designated by the National Cancer Institute, Wake Forest Baptist offers access to many clinical trials that may not be broadly available to cancer patients.
“Clinical trials are very valuable because they help us identify new treatments for our cancer patients,” says Dr. Rodriguez, a nationally recognized expert in multiple myeloma. “Having access to these medicines as part of a study years before they become available allows researchers to discover the best approaches to manage cancer and improve care.”
Ken was a good candidate for the clinical trial because he was healthy, active and working full time. Multiple myeloma can tend to recur, and the objective of the clinical trial is to see if it increases the odds of effectively treating the disease and keeping it from coming back.
“The whole reason they do a trial is they feel like it’s going to be an opportunity to learn how to better treat a disease, and potentially help people along the way,” says Ken when describing his research experience. “Before a therapy or drug can be approved, researchers have to demonstrate that it’s beneficial to humans and not harmful."
“If they see that it’s starting to cause you any harm or the harm starts to outweigh the benefit, they’re going to stop the trial. You are closely monitored to lessen the chances that you will be harmed.”
Ken completed the final portion of the clinical trial in October 2019 and is now in the highest level of remission.
“My wife calls Dr. Rodriguez the smartest man on earth,” Ken says. “She tells everybody that I’m alive because of him. Dr. Rodriguez will say, ‘No, he’s alive today because of the innovative care that we offer at Wake Forest.’”
Ken remains on medication to reduce the risk of recurrence and is back at work as director of emergency management services for Wake Forest Baptist Health. He also leads a multiple myeloma patient support group.
“It is nice to see the fruits of Ken’s dedication and trust,” says Dr. Rodriguez. “Now he can focus on having a healthy life.”