Dr Jalaja Potluri of AbbVie On The 5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
6 min readDec 27, 2021


Some patients may think that chemotherapy is the only treatment option for cancer. For the treatment of some blood cancers, there are a range of therapies available today — including targeted and combination therapies — that can be utilized as potential treatment options.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. There is so much great information out there, but sometimes it is very difficult to filter out the noise. What causes cancer? Can it be prevented? How do you detect it? What are the odds of survival today? What are the different forms of cancer? What are the best treatments? And what is the best way to support someone impacted by cancer?

In this interview series called, “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer” we are talking to experts about cancer such as oncologists, researchers, and medical directors to address these questions. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jalaja Potluri.

Dr. Jalaja Potluri is an Executive Medical Director at AbbVie and the Development Leader for VENCLEXTA (venetoclax). Dr. Potluri is a hematologist and medical oncologist focused on developing transformational treatments for patients with blood cancers. She has developed and conducted several studies that led to VENCLEXTA’s FDA approvals in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Prior to joining the VENCLEXTA clinical development team in 2013, Dr. Potluri was a faculty member at the University of Illinois and at the Advocate Health Centers, where she had been involved in national co-operative oncology trials in blood cancers and was the director of the cancer committee. Dr. Potluri completed her M.D. at Nagarjuna University in India, and fellowship training in Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story. I had two family members working in medicine, whose dedication to helping patients inspired me to become a doctor. It was not until I was in medical school that I developed an interest in blood diseases, which led me to be involved in clinical research and the treatment of various leukemia during my fellowship. Once I had experience in being a clinician and an investigator, I wanted to be more involved in the development of new therapies for patients.

What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

Patients are my biggest motivators. Through my work, I want to be able to help them as much as I can and have a meaningful impact.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
At AbbVie, we are working to advance several investigational therapies across a range of blood cancer types with the goal of setting new standards of care for patients.

Alongside my team, we are continuing to explore targeted therapies, meaning therapies that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules that assist in the growth and spread of cancer.

Can you discuss why you are so passionate about working in the blood cancer space?

Blood cancers are devastating diseases and there is still a lot of clinical unmet need for patients. Finding treatment options for them is something that I am very passionate about. I’ve worked in the industry for over 15 years in both clinical and research roles and have experience in designing, developing, and conducting phase I to III clinical trials with successful global approval of novel agents in multiple blood cancer indications.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with some basic definitions so that we are all on the same page. What is exactly blood cancer?

Blood cancers start in the bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside your bones, and occurs when abnormal blood cells start growing out of control. When these abnormal blood cells grow, they can stop the body’s normal blood cells from naturally fighting them off.

What is the difference between the different forms of blood cancer?

The three primary types of blood cancers are leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Leukemia is a cancer of white blood cells and prevents white blood cells from fighting infections in your body. Leukemia can be either acute meaning that is grows fast or chronic meaning that it grows slowly. There are many types of leukemias including Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, and it affects a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes.

Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells, which are lymphocytes that make antibodies to protect against infections and affects your body’s immune system.

How can one detect the main forms of blood cancer?

Blood cancer can be diagnosed a few different ways:

Leukemia is identified via a complete blood count test — or CBC test — which identifies abnormal levels of white blood cells compared to red blood cells and platelets.

To diagnose lymphoma, a doctor may perform a biopsy — the removal of a small portion of tissue to be examined under a microscope — an X-ray, CT or PET scan to detect swollen lymph nodes.

Myeloma is diagnosed via a CBC, or other blood or urine tests, to detect chemicals or proteins produced as a function of myeloma development.

Can you share some of the new cutting-edge treatments for cancer that have recently emerged? What new cancer treatment innovations are you most excited to see come to fruition in the near future?

The blood cancer treatment space has greatly evolved as patients used to only have one treatment option — chemotherapy. Today, we are in an era where a range of targeted therapies have transformed the treatment landscape and make it possible for a chemotherapy-free treatment for patients. There are also treatments that offer a time off treatment called fixed duration. If the patient is eligible, these therapies can provide patients with the opportunity to stop treatment without their disease progressing.

Healing usually takes place between doctor visits. What have you found to be most beneficial to assist a patient to heal?

I’ve found that patients can benefit from a good diet and physical activity, along with continued follow up from the patient’s medical team.

From your experience, what are a few of the best ways to support a loved one, friend, or colleague who is impacted by cancer?

There are a few ways to support patients diagnosed with blood cancers:
Accompany them to the doctors’ visits and be present during their treatment
Offer techniques for alternative food preparations. Motivate them to remain actively engaged in day-to-day activities as much as possible

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

Some patients may think that chemotherapy is the only treatment option for cancer. For the treatment of some blood cancers, there are a range of therapies available today — including targeted and combination therapies — that can be utilized as potential treatment options.

Thank you so much for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what are your 5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Blood Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

There are approved, chemotherapy-free treatments available for patients.
For some blood cancers, there are fixed duration treatments available that allow for treatment-free periods.

Patients should feel empowered to work with their doctors to align on goals of therapy based on their specific needs, preferences and the nature of their disease.

Cancer treatment varies and is unique to the individual — so it is critical to understand potential benefits and risks of different treatment options.

There are many ongoing clinical trials to discover new treatment options — especially for difficult-to-treat — which could be a potential option for patients and their healthcare providers to explore outside of approved therapies.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can further follow AbbVie’s treatment advances by following us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational and we wish you continued success in your great work.



Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor