“An informed patient is an empowered patient, and an empowered patient has the confidence to take a more active role in decisions about their care.”
Since May is Melanoma Awareness Month, we thought it was a great opportunity for us to share our origin story with our community.
Here is our Founder and CEO, Tzvia Bader, sharing her own cancer story and the inspiration behind the launch of Leal.
“My journey with cancer started long before my own diagnosis. In 1998, my mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and unfortunately did not respond well to treatment. It was during my mother’s cancer journey that I first discovered the vast ecosystem of clinical trials. However, by the time we found a potential clinical trial option for her, it was too late.
Fourteen years later, I found myself in a familiar position when I was diagnosed with stage IV malignant melanoma. Fearing history repeating itself and trying to come to grips with the all too real prospect of my 3 young daughters losing their mother, I dove headfirst into mapping out my own treatment plan. Although the odds were stacked against me, I had so much to fight for and was determined to control my cancer journey.”
Working to Find the Best Treatment For Me
“I started my treatment in a large community center in New Jersey. Still, 3 surgeries later, my cancer continued to progress. I was hopeful we’d be able to find a treatment that worked for me at this center, but that wasn’t the case. I was presented with only 1 clinical trial as a potential treatment option. During my conversation with my oncologist at the time, I remember thinking, “What do you mean, only 1 trial?” With my cancer progressing and knowing that there were so many clinical trials happening around the world, I found it inconceivable—and unacceptable—that there was only 1 viable treatment option for me.
At that moment, I realized that if I wanted more options, it was up to me to help discover them. I began researching and educating myself, and I was determined that my next best option was to move my case to a larger cancer research center. At first, I felt relieved. I had put in a lot of work and was scheduled to meet with several of the most accomplished doctors who were dedicated to cancer research and who I hoped would be able to provide me with greater access to life-saving solutions. Thankfully, my new oncologist gave me 3 different options: one option was to try an approved cancer drug, and the other 2 options were to participate in different clinical trials.
At the time, I was still trying to fully comprehend the role of clinical trials in my treatment journey. The doctor explained how these studies demonstrated potentially better outcomes based on my diagnosis. Because time was not on my side, I jumped in with both feet.
The first trial option I chose was to receive a targeted therapy drug, which lasted several months before tests showed that the disease had continued to spread. Then, I switched to a clinical trial that included treatment with a combination of a proven immunotherapy drug and a virus vaccination. At first, my cancer responded fairly well to this treatment. However, after completing the treatment phase of the clinical trial and attempting to transition back to my “normal” life, my scans showed a recurrence.
At my wit’s end, I asked my oncologist a simple but direct question: “Are you offering me the best treatment options available or just the best that this hospital has to offer?” This question led to the discovery of 2 very important points. Unfortunately, I learned that 1) I was only being offered clinical trials available through my treatment site, and 2) I had been offered only the clinical trials with which my oncologist was directly involved. It was then that I decided that I wanted to cast the widest net possible, so I began my search to uncover all options available to me.”
Taking Charge of My Care
“Through my own relentless research, I identified a new clinical trial option and presented it to my doctor. My enthusiasm for this new potential treatment was immediately shot down when my oncologist informed me that he did not have any seats left for this specific clinical trial and preferred for me to enroll in a different one. This opened my eyes to some of the flaws in the current clinical trial landscape for patients.
I knew that I had to make another treatment decision, which led me to find a much more aggressive treatment option available through a new clinical trial. My oncologist was uncertain about this option and suggested a different approach before I resorted to this more aggressive trial. But at that point, I knew I had to make a life-changing decision: to do what I felt was right for my body and diagnosis. With that, I went forward with the more aggressive treatment.
Looking back, what is so important about this scenario is not that I chose one treatment option over another. Rather, it was the fact that when I had several options, I learned how important it was to understand what those options were and to make the decision that was right for me. It is now nearly 5 years later, and I am so thankful I made that decision.
What I learned throughout my own cancer journey is that the way in which patients gain access to advanced cancer treatments, through clinical trials, is completely broken.
Understanding ALL treatment options is critical for people to own their cancer journey, as I have been fortunate enough to do. After spending 20 years building technology companies, it is clear that AI offers the only viable path to empowering every individual on the planet with the knowledge and tools they need to receive the best treatment possible. And so Leal Health was born.”
Building a Technology that Accelerates Access to All Advanced Treatment Options for All Patients
“The future of healthcare means creating a true partnership and collaboration between patients and their doctors, whereby the patient offers more direct input about treatment options and can leverage technology like AI to learn more about all available therapies that could lead to significantly improved outcomes.
In the same way that you would never buy a home through a real estate agent without first seeing the house yourself, doctors and the healthcare industry at large simply cannot determine the best treatment plan for a particular patient without first listening to the patient’s thoughts, desires, and feedback. Patients need to be heard, because it’s their cancer diagnosis, their treatment and, ultimately, their decision on the best course of action to take.
By providing all available treatment options to patients – powered by a technology that is without bias or Big Pharma influence – Leal provides patients with the necessary tools to be active in, and comfortable with, their treatment plan. We designed the platform to use AI to identify and generate personalized treatment plans, enabling patients to own their journey. The information is curated for patients in easy-to-understand language and a support team is in place to help guide patients every step of the way.
Additionally, oncologists can obtain quick, easy access to all available clinical trial information, enabling them to deepen relationships with their patients and offer better clinical outcomes.”
Recognized by TIME magazine as one of “The 100 Best Inventions of 2020” and named an honoree in the AI and data category for Fast Company‘s “2021 World Changing Ideas” Awards, Leal has thousands of cancer patients on its platform from across the U.S. and has already made 4.2 million clinical trial matches for people with cancer.”
What to Know if You are Considering Joining a Clinical Trial
“Before my own cancer experience, I wish I had known that I had the option to participate in clinical trials, even before moving forward with my initial standard-of-care treatment. After my diagnosis and a lack of direction from my first oncologist, I was determined to find a better alternative to what I was given. It took a lot of self-exploration and research to truly understand the clinical trial landscape. In hindsight, I wish I had known the complexities around finding the right option to fit my specific diagnosis.
During the already difficult time of navigating a cancer diagnosis, I found out how important it was to recognize that the key to treatment may lie beyond the standard of care. I learned that you must be willing to seek other treatment options, such as clinical trials, to ensure you are aware of all potential treatment options available to you.
Beyond this, I believe it is important for people with cancer to know that participating in clinical trials can potentially serve as a life-saving treatment for you as the actual participant, and also help to further advances in treating cancer that could help others in need.”
Tzvia Bader is a stage IV Melanoma survivor and the CEO and co-founder of Leal Health, an AI-powered decision-making platform that connects cancer patients to advanced treatment options and helps to accelerate clinical research timelines.