Epizyme pairs real-life nurse with interactive tool to help follicular lymphoma patients navigate the tough questions

Nurse practitioner Sandra Kurtin helps guide follicular lymphoma patients through their disease journey as part of Epizyme's new online tool, "My Follicular Lymphoma Coach." (Epizyme)

When she was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma in 2017 at age 44, Kendra Munger asked plenty of questions and worked closely with her doctor so they could figure out her treatment plan together. 

In a video for drugmaker Epizyme’s new "In My Blood" campaign, the actress, singer and writer encourages others with the diagnosis to do the same.

“It’s a true partnership, and you have every right to ask every question you can think of,” she says. 

With advances in treatment as well as ongoing clinical trials for new blood cancer meds, patients have a growing number of options to weigh. That also means, however, that they may feel overwhelmed about where to start or what questions to ask, Cheya Pope, Epizyme’s vice president of corporate affairs, said in an email interview. 

Enter Epizyme’s My Follicular Lymphoma Coach, aka Sandra Kurtin, an oncology and hematology nurse practitioner from the University of Arizona Cancer Center who’s spent 30 years treating follicular lymphoma patients. 

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In a series of videos on the campaign website, Kurtin is a reassuring face and calmly guides patients through everything they need to know about the disease. She talks through the kinds of tests used to diagnose the disease, what each stage means and also the many possible treatment scenarios. 

Epizyme pairs the videos with an interactive questionnaire that asks patients about their own diagnosis, including disease stage, current treatments and lifestyle preferences. Kurtin explains the topics addressed in each question, and the online tool uses the patient’s answers to create a personalized discussion guide they can print and bring to their doctor’s visits. 

The idea was born out of conversations with healthcare providers and patient advocates, Pope said. They emphasized the role a strong provider-patient relationship can play in helping patients navigate the complexities of the typically incurable blood cancer, which patients often live with for years or even decades. 

“We wanted to create resources .. .to provide them with relevant information that can support them throughout their journey,” she said. The website also includes downloadable daily and weekly symptom trackers, so patients who are in remission can monitor themselves for signs of a relapse.

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Epizyme is promoting the campaign in traditional and digital media and through the patient advocate community. While the effort is unbranded, the company’s newly approved cancer med Tazverik won an FDA nod in June 2020 to treat EZH2-positive follicular lymphoma patients who have tried at least two other therapies. It’s also cleared for other follicular lymphoma patients who don’t have satisfactory alternatives. 

Tazverik first hit the market in February 2020 with big sales expectations after its initial FDA approval in January of that year to treat the soft-tissue cancer epithelioid sarcoma.

But its uptake has been slower than expected, partly due to the timing of the launch amid the pandemic. The drug ended up bringing in $11.5 million for Epizyme in 2020, far less than the $35 million in first-year sales some analysts had predicted.