Expert Perspective: COVID Vaccines and Treatment for Myeloma Patients

Expert Perspective: COVID Vaccines and Treatment for Myeloma Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Irene Ghobrial shares an update on COVID vaccines, treatment, and advice for myeloma patients on how to help protect themselves from the virus.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Many prominent doctors claim the COVID vaccines suppress the immune system. How can boosters be justified in an already immune deficient myeloma patient? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so we think that protecting yourself and preventing COVID infections is so essential and so important. 

Especially in a patient with myeloma and especially when you’re receiving therapy: daratumumab (Darzalex), bispecifics, CAR-T. We want to make sure everyone is protected from COVID infections, and they are real. They are serious, and they cause death in our patients. So, every step, not only getting the vaccine but also sometimes we give tixagevimab co-packaged with cilgavimab (Evusheld) to protect our patients and protect further problems and reinfection. 

Katherine Banwell:

Remind us, what that is, the Evusheld?  

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Oh. It’s an antibody to help us prevent the COVID infection, so as a prevention method rather than as a treatment method.  

The other thing that we think of is the immune system is already altered in myeloma. It’s even altered or changed even as early as MGUS and smoldering myeloma. So, when we’re walking around and thinking, “Oh, I have only a benign design of MGUS,” that’s not true. The immune system has already started to change as early as MGUS, and in many of us as we get older. 

So, we have to be more protective and we have to be more careful with our patients. But as we get to even myeloma, before we even treat it, before we use the drugs that kill plasma cells, good and bad plasma cells, which secrete antibodies that fight infections, we are already at risk for COVID infections. 

And then our drugs, unfortunately, don’t only kill the malignant or the bad plasma cells, they also have a small side effect of killing also your normal plasma cells, and these are the ones that make antibodies to fight infections. So, you are at risk, and you have to be very protective and careful with yourself. 

Which Myeloma Patients Are Candidates for CAR T-Cell Therapy?

Which Myeloma Patients Are Candidates for CAR T-Cell Therapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Omar Nadeem discusses which patients are most appropriate for CAR T-cell therapy and explains cytokine release syndrome (CRS), which may arise following this treatment approach.

Dr. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:  

“How is it determined as to which patients might be the best candidates for clinical trial CAR T-cell treatment?”  

Dr. Omar Nadeem:  

So, CAR T-cell therapy is already approved. It’s FDA-approved for patients that have had four or more prior lines of myeloma therapy. So, when we think about a patient coming to us for that particular treatment that have relapsed myeloma, we’re always looking to see how much of the previous therapy they had. 

Whether they meet the indication, the labeled indication for that particular product. And then now, as we’ve discussed today, we’re studying this CAR T-cell therapy in various different phases of myeloma. Earlier lines of therapy, even thinking about studying it in high-risk smoldering myeloma, right? And then kind of looking about how we can best study this therapy in so many different phases. 

So, it all depends on where a patient is in their disease state, and then we kind of look to see whether a commercial approved CAR-T product makes sense for them, or we think about one of our several relapse CAR T-cell trials that are looking at BCMA target, which is what the approved one is, but also looking at newer targets like GPRC5D that we’ve brought up before. 

So, it encompasses a lot of different things, that question, but I think in terms of the candidacy of the patient itself, we do know that these CAR T-cell therapies have some toxicity, so we have to then weigh in terms of what medical problems they have whether they’ll be able to tolerate what the majority of patients with CAR T-cell therapy get, which is this syndrome called cytokine release syndrome, where patients will get a fever. 

And in some cases have changes in their blood pressure or oxygen levels. We have to make sure that the patient’s body can handle that. I will say we’ve gotten better and better at managing a lot of toxicities as it comes to CAR T-cell therapy. When this was first approved, it was all pretty new, but now what we’re learning is if patients are developing a fever, which the majority do, we’re intervening earlier and earlier to prevent them from getting sicker. 

So, these are things we’ve learned now, and the majority of patients get through CAR T-cell therapy toxicity period much better than they did when it was first approved. 

How Is Relapsed or Refractory Myeloma Managed?

How Is Relapsed or Refractory Myeloma Managed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Drs. Irene Ghobrial and Betsy O’Donnell discuss next steps if myeloma relapse occurs or the disease doesn’t respond to treatment. The experts review the necessary tests following a myeloma relapse and how a treatment choice is determined.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders. 

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

We know that relapse can happen. Dr. Ghobrial, how common is relapsed or refractory disease? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, and, fortunately, we do have amazing remissions. We have very long remissions. Many people are living 10 years, 15 years and longer, which as Dr. Nadeem said, was not something we knew about years ago. I trained 20 years ago as a fellow, and myeloma was a survival of three to five years.  

We’ve come a long way, but we want to change that even better. We want a cure. We want to tell a patient, “You are done. You’re cured,” and we will not stop until that happens. So, when people have a progression again or relapse, then we want to consider what is the next available option. What is the best option to give them yet one more long, long remission? We are failing sometimes, and that’s because the disease is so bad, the biology of the disease is so bad, and the drugs that we’re using may not be the best drugs for that patient. 

And that’s why we need to understand better the biology and pick the right drugs for the right patient up front as much as we can, and also think about earlier treatment. We were just saying we probably have amazing drugs, but we’re waiting way too long until people have almost metastatic disease, and then we treat them. Why not think of an earlier interception when the disease is less mutated, when you have less cancer cells, a better immune system, and use your best drugs then? And hopefully we will achieve cure in many of those patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

What testing takes place after a relapse? Is it different than what has happened before, the testing that was done before? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

No, the same tests exactly. We sort of say it’s restaging. We check everything again – the bone marrow biopsy, the FISH, because you may now develop a 17p that was probably there, but the very, very small number of cells that you cannot detect, and now it grows because of something called chrono selection. The drugs kill the sensitive cells, but they don’t kill the bad cells, and that’s how we can get all of those changes and mutations.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. O’Donnell, is the process for choosing treatment different for a relapsed or refractory patient? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, that’s a great question. Yes, it can be. I mean, again, it always depends on how the person is doing at that time. It also depends, there are certain drugs that may not be approved in the front lines, something like venetoclax (Venclexta). If a person has a specific translocation, this 11;14, that’s something that we would like it in a second-line setting, for example. 

Usually one of the big questions people ask is if you’re on a specific class of drugs, should you change classes? So, this example is if you’re on lenalidomide (Revlimid), and you have evidence that your disease is progressing, should you change to a different type of drug? A proteasome inhibitor, monoclonal antibody? Should that include one of the same classes of drug, like pomalidomide (Pomalyst), which is the next generation? 

So, there are a lot of different factors that we consider. The number of drugs. So, you know, as Dr. Nadeem said, historically – there’s a lot of history in myeloma therapy, and it’s been an evolution, and so now we’ve had people who were treated with the three-drug combination that are starting, after many years, to progress. So, we might choose a monoclonal antibody for those patients because it wasn’t available at the time they were diagnosed. Versus patients now, who are typically on a four-drug regimen that includes those monoclonal antibodies and all the different classes of drugs. 

We’re looking at different and, if available, novel agents to put those patients on. And again, I think Dr. Nadeem made a really important point that I want to underscore, which is that very often our best therapies are available in clinical trials. And so when and if there is the opportunity to be on a clinical trial, you may be then able to get something that would not otherwise be available to you. So, I encourage people to always have an open mind to being on a clinical trial at any stage in their disease treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

What therapies are available for relapse or refractory disease? Are they different than other therapies? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

You know, so that’s a great question. So, yes and no. I highlighted one example that might be a little bit different, but in general, we’re very fortunate that we have multiple classes of drugs, meaning we have different drugs that work differently to kill your myeloma cells. And as Dr. Nadeem said earlier, we use those in combinations to increase the effectiveness of those medicines. Within each class we have a variety of drugs. 

You used the example of immunomodulators, and show that we have three different of those type of drugs.   

We have two different proteasome inhibitors. Beyond that, we have other classes of drugs that were mentioned. We have monoclonal antibodies, immunotherapies.  

And so very often we make, it’s almost like a mix where we pick what we think is going to be most effective, sometimes based on cytogenetics. The biology. Sometimes based on patient selection. What are their other medical problems, what are their current issues? And we pick the combination that we feel is going to be most effective from the different classes of drugs that we have together, usually trying to use multiple drugs in combination. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, what newer therapies are available or in development for refractory and relapsed disease? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I think that the greatest interest that I think we’re all most excited about is the immunotherapy space, and I think we’ve seen – for myeloma, we see that this is a relapsing and remitting disease. 

And what’s been so exciting about CAR-T cells and the bispecific antibodies is that in patients who have had, on average, five relapses, we’re seeing tremendous results. So, complete remissions or very good partial remissions that last. In fact, can last up to two years, on average, with one of our CAR T-cell products. 

So, this is really exciting, especially when you compare to what historically has been out there for patients who have had that many relapses. And just as Dr. Nadeem said, the way that drugs enter, they enter from the relapse refractory setting, ethically that’s what makes the most sense, and they march their way forward. And so that process is happening right now as we speak, and I think like Dr. Ghobrial talked about, is the importance in early disease of thinking about using these really exciting therapies in patients who have lower burdens of disease with a goal of cure. 

And so I think all of us on this call are committed to one thing, and that is curing multiple myeloma, and even the precursors that lead up to it so that patients never have to go through the process of years and years of therapy. And so I think we’re very excited about what immunotherapy might be able to offer as we move forward in myeloma treatment. 

How Is Research Advancing Myeloma Treatment and Care?

How Is Research Advancing Myeloma Treatment and Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A panel of myeloma experts, including Drs. Omar Nadeem, Irene Ghobrial, and Betsy O’Donnell, discuss how clinical trials advance myeloma research and share an update on promising therapies in development.

Dr. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders. 

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Where do clinical trials fit into a patient’s treatment plan? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. So, clinical trials as a term, a lot of times patients have a lot of questions about what that means. There’s a lot of misconceptions, I would say.  

Sometimes patients think they will get either a placebo and they won’t get the adequate treatment, or that they may not get the right treatment, right, because they’re taking a chance going on a clinical trial. It’s actually the opposite. So, all the trials are really designed to improve upon what we already know works in a particular disease, right? So, when we think about trials let’s say in relapsed myeloma, where the patient has already had some of the approved therapies, we’re looking at the most promising new therapies that have shown efficacy either in the lab or first in human studies and then moving them through the different phases and studying them in more and more patients.  

And that’s how all these drugs get started, right? So, they all get started at that point and then make their way to earlier lines of therapy.  

Then you’re trying to answer different questions as part of clinical trials. So, which one of these therapies can I combine, for example. Which ones can I omit, which ones – so, they’re all sort of getting the standard therapy and getting something either added on top of it or removed, depending on what the question that we’re asking. 

And then in the world that we currently live in with precursor plasma cell disorders, as Dr. Ghobrial mentioned, we have lots of patients that are at high risk of developing multiple myeloma in their lifetime, and that could be in a few years to a decade. And a lot of these therapies are so effective, and we’re now trying to really study some of these rationally in that patient population, so that’s a very different clinical trial, for example, than what I described earlier.  

So, it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve and where you are in the phase of your disease. 

Katherine Banwell:

This next question is open to all of you. Are there therapies in development that are showing promise for patients with myeloma? Dr. O’Donnell, let’s start with you.  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Yes. So, I think we are so fortunate in multiple myeloma to have so much interest in our disease and so many great drugs developed. So, as Dr. Nadeem was discussing, CAR-T cells are an immunotherapy, the ones that are approved now, we actually are fortunate to have two CAR-T cells approved, target something very specific called B-cell maturation antigen.  

We’re now seeing the next generation where we’re looking at other targets on the same cancer cell, that plasma cell, so those are evolving. 

Same thing is true in the bispecific antibody space. Again, those target BCMA now, but we have newer bispecifics who look at alternate targets, and really what this does is it gives us different ways of approaching the cancer cell, particularly as you relapse through disease.  

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

I would probably say we’re also getting into targeted therapies and more of personalized, so if you have an 11;14 translocation, venetoclax (Venclexta) would be an amazing drug for that. And the more we can say my own personal myeloma, what’s the best treatment for me, that’s how we’re trying to do it. So, it may not be exactly precision medicine, but we’re getting closer and closer to precision medicine of my myeloma, my specific drugs. And even if people have a 17p deletion, then we would say let’s think of that immunotherapy.  

It is truly a renaissance for us, and we’re starting to get into trispecifics, into off-the-shelf CAR-T, into so many new things. Into two different antigens that are expressed for the CAR-Ts. I mean, we are really beginning the era of immunotherapy, and we’re excited to see how much we can go into that because it will completely change myeloma, and hopefully we will cure many patients. We think we have already amazing drugs. It’s a matter of when to use them and who is the right person for this right drug. 

Katherine:

What are you hopeful about the future of care for myeloma patients? Dr. Ghobrial, do you want to start? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

I’m hopeful that we truly cure myeloma, and no one should ever develop end organ damage. 

We should identify it early and treat it early, and no one should ever come in being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. Nadeem? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, I think I definitely agree with what Irene said, and really having a more thoughtful approach to each individual myeloma patient. As I mentioned earlier, we have so many available therapies. I want to be able to know exactly which patients need which path in terms of treatment, and which ones we can maybe de-escalate therapy, right? So, thinking about which patients do well and maybe can get away with not being on continuous therapy, and those that absolutely need it. Identifying them better to give them the best therapy. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, do you have anything to add? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

I think we all share a common goal, which is cure, and for those who we can’t cure yet, I think really working on making the experience as good as it possibly can be and focusing on the factors that we can control and optimizing those, both for patients and their caregivers who are in this journey together with the patient.  

What Are Currently Available Myeloma Treatments?

What Are Currently Available Myeloma Treatments? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Omar Nadeem reviews myeloma treatment classes, including immunomodulatory therapies, proteasome inhibitors, and monoclonal antibodies. Dr. Nadeem also discusses how combining these therapies has boosted the effectiveness of myeloma treatment.

Dr. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Nadeem, what types of myeloma treatment classes are currently available?  

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. So, we started over three decades ago plus with just having basically steroid medications and some older chemotherapy drugs that weren’t very targeted at all, and that was basically all we had up until about a little over 20 years ago, where immunomodulatory drugs were first discovered to be effective in multiple myeloma, and that included thalidomide (Contergan or Thalomid) and now a commonly used agent called lenalidomide, or Revlimid.  

After that, we had a next class of medications approved called proteasome inhibitors that work differently than the immunomodulatory drugs, and then we combined all of these therapies about a decade plus ago and showed that that was better than anything else that we were doing before that. So, combining the steroids with the immunomodulatory drugs and proteasome inhibitors became the standard of care. 

And then we had the next class of drugs approved in 2015 called monoclonal antibodies, and that’s the first time we have monoclonal antibodies approved for myeloma, and it first started in patients that had relapsed myeloma, and then they made it all the way up to front line therapy with a drug in particular called daratumumab (Darzalex).  

And now what we’re going is entering an era of combining all four of these therapies, just like we did 10 years ago with three drugs, and showing that combining four drugs is actually better than three. And the important thing there is that it’s not necessarily adding cumulative toxicity. These are targeted therapies; they all work differently, but they all work really well together. So, now combining these agents has allowed us to really treat the disease effectively and allow for patients to tolerate the therapies.  

And then over the last couple of years, we’ve now entered kind of the next renaissance in myeloma where you have immunotherapies, and these are sort of true immunotherapies, in some cases taking the patient’s own T cells and then genetically modifying them to recognize myeloma cells and putting them back into patients. This is called CAR T-cell therapy, and that’s now approved for patients with multiple myeloma.  

And that again, just like the previous drug, sits in patients that have – you know, at a space where patients have had multiple relapses. But we’re now studying that earlier and earlier, and that along with another class of drugs called bispecific antibodies that also use your T cells via a different mechanism. A lot of exciting things going on, and we keep adding to the available agents for this disease.  

Understanding Personalized Medicine for Myeloma

Understanding Personalized Medicine for Myeloma from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma experts Dr. Omar Nadeem and Dr. Betsy O’Donnell discuss the personalized approach to treating myeloma and the factors that are considered when making care decisions.

Dr. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Nadeem, as we begin our treatment discussion, would you define personalized medicine as it relates to myeloma care? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. I think we’re getting better and better at really having a personalized treatment plan for each individual patient with multiple myeloma. I think Dr. O’Donnell defined before, we are identifying some of the markers where we have targeted therapy for, and we hope with time we’ll discover more and more targets that can truly lead to personalized medicine for individual patients. 

Right now, though, we have a lot of approved therapies for multiple myeloma, and that list is getting longer and longer basically every month, it seems, nowadays. So, when we have so many tools in our toolkit, we then have to figure out, well, which strategy works for which patient? And the fact that we have effective therapies, we’re able to tailor how much of one particular therapy a patient may benefit from. So, some of the decisions that come into play is which medication should I combine for this patient which will lead to obviously disease eradication? 

And then also, how much do I need to intensify that treatment? Do we need to think about doing a stem cell transplant or not? Yes or no?  

There are lot of pros and cons, right? So, it’s a very personalized decision that we have, looking at the disease factors, but also a lot of personal factors because transplant interrupts life, and then we have to make sure that that fits with that particular patient’s lifestyle.  

And then we talk about maintenance therapy. You know, that’s the therapy that is designed to kind of keep the disease away usually for many, many years for the majority of patients.   

But what does that look like, right? Does that include just pills? Is it going to be shots plus pills? Is it going to be a combination, etcetera? So, we have all the discussions at each phase of myeloma, and we discuss with them about what the pros and cons are and how that may fit into their particular lifestyle. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, what factors do you consider when choosing a treatment approach? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I think you’ve heard from all of us that we really try to have an individualized approach. When we’re talking about multiple myeloma, one of the main factors that I think about is really kind of the overall wellness of the patient. Historically, we had different categories of transplant eligible, transplant ineligible. 

And so that can influence some of the decisions. Really it comes down to what is it the person’s performance does? How well are they doing in their day-to-day life? And that really can dictate the intensity of the therapy. We know that age is just a number, it really is, so there are factors beyond that. What other medical problems do people have? What are the specifics of how well their kidneys are working? 

And so the biggest thing that we can work with is the dose. In fact, we’ve had work that shows that using lower doses from the get-go in older patients allows almost identical outcomes, but really gives patients a tailored dose to where they are at that juncture in their life.  

And so remember, myeloma is much more like a marathon, and so you have to set out at a pace that can be sustained. We treat people continuously. There’s an induction phase where we use a multiple drug combination, but beyond that, as Dr. Nadeem just said, they go on to maintenance, and that maintenance is indefinite. And so you have to set out at a pace or at a dose that you can sustain. 

Different medications have different toxicity profiles, so if someone had, let’s say, cardiac or heart issues, we might steer away from some medications that may exacerbate those. So, every decision is individualized. It’s based on who the patient is, where they are in their life, what other medical problems they have, and what we think they will do best with over time, not just in a short timeframe. 

Expert Advice for Navigating Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions

Expert Advice for Navigating Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma experts Dr. Irene Ghobrial, Dr. Omar Nadeem, and Dr. Betsy O’Donnell, review essential testing that may impact the prognosis, care, and treatment options for patients with myeloma. The experts also discuss additional factors that are taken into consideration when choosing a therapy and share updates on new and developing myeloma research.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

Dr. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell: Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to hear perspectives from three myeloma experts on how to access personalized care for your myeloma. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.  

Well, let’s meet today’s guests. I’ll start with Dr. Irene Ghobrial. Dr. Ghobrial, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Absolutely, and thank you for having us. My name is Irene Ghobrial. I am a professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you. Also with us today is Dr. Omar Nadeem. Thank you for being with us. Would you introduce yourself? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Hi, everyone. Thank you for having me. My name is Omar Nadeem. I’m an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and I work with the faculty at Dana-Farber myeloma program. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay, lovely, thank you. And last but not least is Dr. Betsy O’Donnell. Thank you for joining us today. Would you introduce yourself to the audience? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Sure, and thank you for having us this morning. My name is Betsy O’Donnell. I’m an assistant professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in plasma cell disorders. 

Katherine Banwell:

All right. Thank you to all of you for taking the time out of your schedule to join us today. Before we delve into our discussion, let’s start with understanding the types of myeloma. Dr. Ghobrial, what is MGUS? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So MGUS, or monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, is a precursor or the stage before myeloma happens, and it’s actually a very common disease or entity in many, many of us as we get older. In fact, maybe 5 percent of the population over the age of 50 would have this early MGUS. 

It doesn’t mean that it’s cancer. It’s a precursor to cancer, and we can talk more about it as we go on. 

Katherine Banwell:

All right. Is it the same as smoldering myeloma, or is that something different? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

It’s not. It’s an earlier stage than smoldering myeloma, and it’s hard to actually make the right definitions. But currently what we say is if you have more than 10 percent cancer cells or plasma cells in your bone marrow, then it’s smoldering myeloma. And by the name, smoldering, it’s almost myeloma. It’s ready to go on fire, but it’s not there yet.  

MGUS is before that, and the difference is that the chance of progression from MGUS to myeloma is only 1 percent per year, so many, many people will never progress to myeloma. While smoldering myeloma, just because there are more cancer cells in the bone marrow, has a higher chance of progressing, which is 10 percent per year. And in some people, a very high chance of progression of 50 percent in two years. 

And we want to make sure that we catch those cases early and not wait for myeloma to happen. 

Katherine Banwell:

How would you define myeloma? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, myeloma is currently defined as the same thing. The number of plasma cells in the bone marrow could be above 10 percent or more, or you have a protein in the blood. But the problem is that you’ve already had problems. You’ve had symptoms of end organ damage, so we have either high calcium, bone lesions, or bone fractures, anemia, kidney failure.  

And then now or more recently, we added a few more things to tell us these people are going to really develop myeloma soon. So, it used to be part of smoldering myeloma, now it’s part of the definition of myeloma, so that we can treat patients earlier, which is if your light chain level is very high, above 100 for a ratio, or if you have multiple lesions by something called an MRI or a PET CT scan instead of the traditional X-rays, or if your bone marrow has a lot of the plasma cells, more than 60 percent. 

And these were new definitions to make sure we don’t wait too much until people have an organ damage or symptoms and then we treat them. And you’ll hear from us that we think we should be treating people even earlier than that.  

Katherine Banwell:

Well, thank you for that. That’s very helpful. Dr. O’Donnell, let’s move on to testing. What tests are necessary to help understand a patient’s specific disease? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Absolutely. So, testing really does depend a little bit on the stage at which your disease is found. In general, we use a very specific blood test that lets us know that there is clonal protein present. Remember, plasma cells are a type of white blood cell, and they make something called antibodies. We use a test called a serum protein electrophoresis, which is a blood test – an SPEP, we call it – that can tell us the difference between normal, healthy antibody and clone that are made from the plasma cells that we see in MGUS, smoldering, and multiple myeloma. 

So, that’s a very important test, and sometimes your primary care doctor may notice that your total protein is elevated and send that test. 

Or there may be other things that tip them off. Perhaps the kidneys are not where they used to be. And so that test is sent, and that’s the first tip-off that someone might have a plasma cell disorder.  

Once we identify that there’s a plasma cell disorder, then that can set in place a workup, depending on the amount of clonal, monoclonal, M-protein that we see. So, sometimes that involves bone imaging. Historically that was a skeletal survey where we took lots of X-rays of your body. Now we have other tests we use. PET scans, CT scans, whole body MRIs. Sometimes it depends where you’re getting your treatment, and also it depends a little bit on your doctor’s degree of suspicion. 

Bone marrow biopsies are a procedure that we sometimes do. We use a thin, hollow needle to take out just a little piece of bone, about the size of an inchworm, and take some fluid with it. There’s actually fluid inside the bone marrow.  

And that can tell us, just as Dr. Ghobrial was defining the spectrum of plasma cell disorders, based on the percent of plasma cells, that can tell us where somebody belongs, which group they might belong in. So, we can use all of these tests to help give us a good sense of how much disease someone has and where in the spectrum or continuum a person is – MGUS, smoldering, or multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell: Okay, great. Thank you. I’m assuming these tests can help with understanding the stage of a patient’s myeloma. So, Dr. Nadeem, how is myeloma staged? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem: Yes. So, myeloma is staged very differently than traditional cancers. Because this is a blood disease, we don’t really think about it like we may in other solid tumor cancers, where if it’s spread to multiple locations it’s four, etcetera. That doesn’t apply to multiple myeloma. It’s actually staged out of three stages, and uses your blood work for the most part, some blood tests, to help identify which stage you are. Historically, that has correlated with how you may do. 

However, now we are learning that it’s far more to this story than just the bloodwork. So, we’re now using our bone marrow test results, particularly a test called a FISH test, which looks at the mutations that are present in examinable plasma cells, and if you have presence of some of these high-risk markers, that can actually either upstage you or downstage you if you don’t.   

So, we’re now I think becoming a little bit smarter how we think about this disease. It’s not just based on some blood test. We’re actually looking at the biology of some of these cells and the amount in the bone marrow. A lot of times patients ask, well, if I have 50 percent, 60 percent, or 80 percent involvement of the bone marrow, that actually does not have anything to do with staging, right? So, I think it’s important to know that it’s actually a very unique staging system in multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. O’Donnell, the landscape of myeloma has changed significantly in recent years. How have advances in testing changed care from myeloma patients? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I mean, the landscape has changed incredibly just in terms of the treatments we have, and I think that Dr. Nadeem was talking about something really important.  

In that when we look at FISH, which allows us to know the biology a little bit more, sometimes it helps us to decide kind of the risk that a patient is. We aren’t really at the point now where we do truly tailored therapies, like you see in some cancers, where we can detect specific mutations and pick drugs that align with that, but there are some that we do use. An example would be a drug called venetoclax (Venclexta), which works very well in patients who have a specific translocation, 11;14.  

So, there is some degree in which we use that FISH and those cytogenetics to help define our treatments, but also really we’re just fortunate that we have new and evolving therapies. We’ve changed how we treat myeloma in the up-front setting, and then at the back end we have an exploding field of immunotherapies, CAR-T cells, bispecific antibody that we’re now using that really have tremendously benefited our patients.  

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, should all patients undergo in-depth testing, like cytogenetics?  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Yes, so if you’re doing a bone marrow biopsy, absolutely. The question in terms of who needs bone marrow biopsies, if someone has a low risk MGUS, those patients don’t necessarily require a bone marrow biopsy. It’s an invasive procedure, it’s an uncomfortable procedure. But if we’re doing a workup for multiple myeloma or smoldering myeloma that includes a bone marrow biopsy, then absolutely. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. Nadeem, what are you looking for with cytogenetics, and how might test results affect prognosis and treatment? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, so as mentioned earlier, there are some mutations that are considered high risk, I will say with the caveat that we don’t fully understand every single mutation yet or have identified every single mutation yet that may be high risk or low risk.   

But there are roughly five that we have identified that if a patient has one or two or several of those abnormalities, then their disease may behave a little bit more aggressively or may not respond as well to treatment. 

However, I think myeloma is just very complicated, so we look at a lot of these results in the beginning, both whether they may be good or bad. But I think, ultimately, we have to see how patients do, and that by far is the most important prognostic factor, in my opinion. So, if we look at some of these tools, including staging, some of the bone marrow results and cytogenetics, and try to give some prediction in terms of what we may see from this person’s disease, but ultimately the treatments that are so effective now really dictate the course for the majority of the patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there specific tests that patients should ask for that could impact their care decisions? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, I think it depends on where they are in their disease state. So, if we’re looking at whether a patient has a precursor or plasma cell disorder or multiple myeloma, then they need all the testing to help us figure that out. 

So, that includes a bone marrow biopsy, the FISH testing as we just talked about. Advanced imaging like a PET scan or an MRI is now critical to identify patients that may have multiple myeloma versus those that have a precursor condition. So, we used to count on X-rays, as Dr. O’Donnell mentioned, but now really we do prefer one of those advanced imaging techniques for patients to undergo so that we can know. 

So, I think if they have basically those tests completed, that gives us most of the information that we need. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Thank you for that. Let’s go back to asymptomatic myeloma for a moment. Dr. Ghobrial, how are people with MGUS monitored? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so how do we even diagnose them, right? It’s a big question because it’s incidentally found. Someone will go to their primary care doctor and have a little bit of a high protein or slight anemia, and it may not be related, and then their doctor will check for serum protein electrophoresis, and that’s pure luck. We want to take away luck from this equation. We want to take away chance from this equation. 

And we want to start screening people who are at risk, and we are doing that with the PROMISE study.  

It’s online available to everyone nationwide, international now, where you can sign up on promisestudy.org and try to ask the question that we do for you research level, the serum protein electrophoresis, and a new test called mass spectrometry that is much more sensitive than SPEP to find it. 

Now, once we find MGUS, we want to know what is my own personal risk of progressing to myeloma? Because I could be 30 years old with MGUS, and likely I will progress to myeloma in the next 10 years, 20 years, and by the time I’m age 60, I would have been diagnosed with myeloma. Just a true case in many, many people. If people are diagnosed today with myeloma, they are going to their doctor because they had back pain or anemia, and they are diagnosed with myeloma. In almost all of the cases, they would have had MGUS and smoldering, but they didn’t know about it three years ago, four years ago because they never got tested  
for it. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right.  

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, we want to change that completely and become proactive rather than being reactive and waiting for symptoms to happen. Once you have MGUS or smoldering, because we don’t know, we start looking for all of the things to help us identify your risk of progression. So, we look at the height of your M-spike. Is it small or big? And then we in many cases say okay, maybe you need a bone marrow biopsy if your M-spike is a little bit on the higher side because we don’t want to miss smoldering myeloma, which will change the prognosis. 

And then we start looking at do you have anemia? Do you have kidney failure? Do you have any of the other things that may predict that you may be actually doing into myeloma? 

We also look at it more as a movie rather than as a snapshot, rather than a picture. If your M-spike is changing or your light chain is changing every three months, every six months, that’s an indicator that the cancer cells are doing something. They’re working in there and growing, and that’s why they’re increasing the M-spike and the light chain. 

And that evolving number is actually a very big predictor of telling us that there is a risk of progressing. Those are all clinical markers that we can do. When we look at the FISH, which we talked about, we can tell the certain markers are chromosomal changes that tell you that those cancer cells want to grow a little bit faster. So, 1q abnormality, 4;14, 14;16, 17p, all of those have been shown that when you have them, the cancer cells are not just sitting around and doing nothing. They’re actually starting to grow, and we want to catch them and understand what is the biology of the disease rather than just how many cancer cells you have. 

We do a lot of research level, and potentially now we’re going to give them back to the patients as clinical level, where we can give you more information about that prediction of your risk of progression. One of my colleagues calls it predicting the hurricane. We know that the hurricane will happen, and it’s a question of how precise could you be? We’re the Weather Channel men here.  

And we could be very precise and tell you it’s going to hit Miami at 2:00 in the afternoon tomorrow, and you could be prepared for it and get out of there. Or, you could be completely unprepared because we were not very accurate in our prediction and tell you it may hit the whole East Coast in the next two weeks. That’s not accuracy. So, we want to be more accurate in our prediction of myeloma because one person will never develop myeloma and can go have fun and enjoy life and not be worried and anxious about their risk, and another person we might say let’s watch you more carefully, or let’s think of interception preventing things. 

So, we do things called next-generation sequencing, taking all of those small numbers of cancer cells, even as little as single cells, and we can do whole genome sequencing and give back that information.  

We look at the immune cells and give back that information. We can do mass spectrometry. And with Betsy and Omar, we’re doing more and more tests so that when we have this prediction model, circulating tumor cells and so on, we can be more accurate in giving you that prediction. 

And help you make the next decision of are we watching carefully, are we preventing and intervening with behavior modification with other things? Are we intervening with therapy to intercept the disease? 

Katherine Banwell:

When are more in-depth tests necessary?  

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

It depends, of course, on everything. I would probably say for every patient, it is a unique discussion. Some patients will tell me, “Let’s watch again in three to six months, and then I will do more testing,” and some patients want to know everything immediately. And we have those discussions with every patient, and we tailor our therapy as well as our diagnostics workup with every patient, depending on how much they want to know, how much their risk is, and how much they want to be involved in that discussion of how much to prevent myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

All right. Dr. Nadeem, as we begin our treatment discussion, would you define personalized medicine as it relates to myeloma care? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. I think we’re getting better and better at really having a personalized treatment plan for each individual patient with multiple myeloma. I think Dr. O’Donnell defined before, we are identifying some of the markers where we have targeted therapy for, and we hope with time we’ll discover more and more targets that can truly lead to personalized medicine for individual patients. 

Right now, though, we have a lot of approved therapies for multiple myeloma, and that list is getting longer and longer basically every month, it seems, nowadays. So, when we have so many tools in our toolkit, we then have to figure out, well, which strategy works for which patient? And the fact that we have effective therapies, we’re able to tailor how much of one particular therapy a patient may benefit from. So, some of the decisions that come into play is which medication should I combine for this patient which will lead to obviously disease eradication? 

And then also, how much do I need to intensify that treatment? Do we need to think about doing a stem cell transplant or not? Yes or no? 

There’s lot of pros and cons, right? So, it’s a very personalized decision that we have, looking at the disease factors, but also a lot of personal factors because transplant interrupts life, and then we have to make sure that that fits with that particular patient’s lifestyle. 

And then we talk about maintenance therapy. You know, that’s the therapy that is designed to kind of keep the disease away usually for many, many years for the majority of patients.  

But what does that look like, right? Does that include just pills? Is it going to be shots plus pills? Is it going to be a combination, etcetera? So, we have all the discussions at each phase of myeloma, and we discuss with them about what the pros and cons are and how that may fit into their particular lifestyle. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, what factors do you consider when choosing a treatment approach? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I think you’ve heard from all of us that we really try to have an individualized approach. When we’re talking about multiple myeloma, one of the main factors that I think about is really kind of the overall wellness of the patient. Historically we had different categories of transplant eligible, transplant ineligible. 

And so that can influence some of the decisions. Really it comes down to what is the person’s performance does? How well are they doing in their day-to-day life? And that really can dictate the intensity of the therapy. We know that age is just a number, it really is, so there are factors beyond that. What other medical problems do people have? What are the specifics of how well their kidneys are working? 

And so the biggest thing that we can work with is the dose. In fact, we’ve had work that shows that using lower doses from the get-go in older patients allows almost identical outcomes, but really gives patients a tailored dose to where they are at that juncture in their life.  

And so remember, myeloma is much more like a marathon, and so you have to set out at a pace that can be sustained. We treat people continuously. There’s an induction phase where we use a multiple drug combination, but beyond that, as Dr. Nadeem just said, they go on to maintenance, and that maintenance is indefinite. And so you have to set out at a pace or at a dose that you can sustain. 

Different medications have different toxicity profiles, so if someone had, let’s say, cardiac or heart issues, we might steer away from some medications that may exacerbate those. So, every decision is individualized. It’s based on who the patient is, where they are in their life, what other medical problems they have, and what we think they will do best with over time, not just in a short timeframe. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, as we’ve been discussing, treatment choices vary for individual patients. Dr. Nadeem, what types of myeloma treatment classes are currently available?  

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. So, we started over three decades ago plus with just having basically steroid medications and some older chemotherapy drugs that weren’t very targeted at all, and that was basically all we had up until about a little over 20 years ago, where immunomodulatory drugs were first discovered to be effective in multiple myeloma, and that included thalidomide and now a commonly used agent called lenalidomide, or Revlimid.  

After that, we had a next class of medications approved called proteasome inhibitors that work differently than the immunomodulatory drugs, and then we combined all of these therapies about a decade plus ago and showed that that was better than anything else that we were doing before that. So, combining the steroids with the immunomodulatory drugs and proteasome inhibitors became the standard of care. 

And then we had the next class of drugs approved in 2015 called monoclonal antibodies, and that’s the first time we have monoclonal antibodies approved for myeloma, and it first started in patients that had relapse myeloma, and then they made it all the way up to front line therapy with a drug in particular called daratumumab.  

And now what we’re going is entering an era of combining all four of these therapies, just like we did 10 years ago with three drugs, and showing that combining four drugs is actually better than three. And the important thing there is that it’s not necessarily adding cumulative toxicity. These are targeted therapies; they all work differently but they all work really well together. So, now combining these agents has allowed us to really treat the disease effectively and allow for patients to tolerate the therapies.  

And then over the last couple of years, we’ve now entered kind of the next renaissance in myeloma where you have immunotherapies, and these are sort of true immunotherapies, in some cases taking the patient’s own T cells and then genetically modifying them to recognize myeloma cells and putting them back into patients. This is called CAR T-cell therapy, and that’s now approved for patients with multiple myeloma.  

And that again, just like the previous drug, sits in patients that have – you know, at a space where patients have had multiple relapses. But we’re now studying that earlier and earlier, and that along with another class of drugs called bispecific antibodies that also use your T cells via a different mechanism. A lot of exciting things going on, and we keep adding to the available agents for this disease.  

Katherine Banwell:

As you say, so many exciting advances. Where do clinical trials fit into a patient’s treatment plan? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. So, clinical trials as a term, a lot of times patients have a lot of questions about what that means. There’s a lot of misconceptions, I would say.  

Sometimes patients think they will get either a placebo and they won’t get the adequate treatment, or that they may not get the right treatment, right, because they’re taking a chance going on a clinical trial. It’s actually the opposite. So, all the trials are really designed to improve upon what we already know works in a particular disease, right? So, when we think about trials let’s say in relapsed myeloma, where the patient has already had some of the approved therapies, we’re looking at the most promising new therapies that have shown efficacy either in the lab or first in human studies and then moving them through the different phases and studying them in more and more patients. 

And that’s how all these drugs get started, right? So, they all get started at that point and then make their way to earlier lines of therapy. 

Then you’re trying to answer different questions as part of clinical trials. So, which one of these therapies can I combine, for example. Which ones can I omit, which ones – so, they’re all sort of getting the standard therapy and getting something either added on top of it or removed, depending on what the question that we’re asking. 

And then in the world that we currently live in with precursor plasma cell disorders, as Dr. Ghobrial mentioned, we have lots of patients that are at high risk of developing multiple myeloma in their lifetime, and that could be in a few years to a decade. And a lot of these therapies are so effective, and we’re now trying to really study some of these rationally in that patient population, so that’s a very different clinical trial, for example, than what I described earlier.  

So, it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve and where you are in the phase of your disease. 

Katherine Banwell:

This next question is open to all of you. Are there therapies in development that are showing promise for patients with myeloma? Dr. O’Donnell, let’s start with you. 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Yes. So, I think we are so fortunate in multiple myeloma to have so much interest in our disease and so many great drugs developed. So, as Dr. Nadeem was discussing, CAR-T cells are an immunotherapy, the ones that are approved now, we actually are fortunate to have two CAR-T cells approved, target something very specific called B-cell maturation antigen.  

We’re now seeing the next generation where we’re looking at other targets on the same cancer cell, that plasma cell, so those are evolving. 

Same thing is true in the bispecific antibody space. Again, those target BCMA now, but we have newer bispecifics who look at alternate targets, and really what this does is it gives us different ways of approaching the cancer cell, particularly as you relapse through disease. 

Katherine Banwell:

Anybody else? Dr. Ghobrial, Dr. Nadeem? Anything to add about therapies available? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

I would probably say we’re also getting into targeted therapies and more of personalized, so if you have an 11;14 translocation, venetoclax would be an amazing drug for that. And the more we can say my own personal myeloma, what’s the best treatment for me, that’s how we’re trying to do it. So, it may not be exactly precision medicine, but we’re getting closer and closer to precision medicine of my myeloma, my specific drugs. And even if people have a 17p deletion, then we would say let’s think of that immunotherapy.  

It is truly a renaissance for us, and we’re starting to get into trispecifics, into off-the-shelf CAR-T, into so many new things. Into two different antigens that are expressed for the CAR-Ts. I mean, we are really beginning the era of immunotherapy, and we’re excited to see how much we can go into that because it will completely change myeloma, and hopefully we will cure many patients. We think we have already amazing drugs. It’s a matter of when to use them and who is the right person for this right drug. 

Katherine Banwell:

Exactly, yes. Dr. Nadeem, many patients are on maintenance therapy following active treatment. So, how is a patient on maintenance therapy monitored? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, so, majority of the time just with bloodwork. We don’t necessarily need to do a lot of bone marrow biopsies and PET scans for a majority of patients that are on maintenance therapy unless we’re either worried about their blood markers or some symptoms. Generally speaking, any time – it depends on what maintenance therapy they’re on, of course. If they’re just on lenalidomide, which is the most commonly used maintenance therapy, a lot of times we check in with them every one to three months. 

Depending on how their disease status is and how they’ve been doing and whether there’s any side effects that we need to worry about. So, they still have to see their doctors, still have to get the bloodwork. Usually you can get away with having it done no more than once a month or so, unless they are on other medications along with Revlimid, where we then have to check in with them a little bit more frequently. 

And some of that changes, so patients can be on maintenance therapy for five plus years, and we get a very good sense of how they are doing and kind of how their disease is doing, and we can kind of be a moving target in terms of the frequency of the follow-ups. 

Katherine Banwell:

We know that relapse can happen. Dr. Ghobrial, how common is relapsed or refractory disease? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, and fortunately, we do have amazing remissions. We have very long remissions. Many people are living 10 years, 15 years and longer, which as Dr. Nadeem said, was not something we knew about years ago. I trained 20 years ago as a fellow, and myeloma was a survival of three to five years.  

We’ve come a long way, but we want to change that even better. We want a cure. We want to tell a patient, “You are done. You’re cured,” and we will not stop until that happens. So, when people have a progression again or relapse, then we want to consider what is the next available option. What is the best option to give them yet one more long, long remission? We are failing sometimes, and that’s because the disease is so bad, the biology of the disease is so bad, and the drugs that we’re using may not be the best drugs for that patient. 

And that’s why we need to understand better the biology and pick the right drugs for the right patient up front as much as we can, and also think about earlier treatment. We were just saying we probably have amazing drugs, but we’re waiting way too long until people have almost metastatic disease, and then we treat them. Why not think of an earlier interception when the disease is less mutated, when you have less cancer cells, a better immune system, and use your best drugs then? And hopefully we will achieve cure in many of those patients.  

Katherine Banwell:

What testing takes place after a relapse? Is it different than what has happened before, the testing that was done before? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

No, the same tests exactly. We sort of say it’s restaging. We check everything again – the bone marrow biopsy, the FISH, because you may now develop a 17p that was probably there, but the very, very small number of cells that you cannot detect, and now it grows because of something called chrono selection. The drugs kill the sensitive cells, but they don’t kill the bad cells, and that’s how we can get all of those changes and mutations.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. O’Donnell, is the process for choosing treatment different for a relapsed or refractory patient? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, that’s a great question. Yes, it can be. I mean, again, it always depends on how the person is doing at that time. It also depends, there are certain drugs that may not be approved in the front lines, something like venetoclax. If a person has a specific translocation, this 11;14, that’s something that we would like it in a second-line setting, for example. 

Usually one of the big questions people ask is if you’re on a specific class of drugs, should you change classes? So, this example is if you’re on Revlimid, and you have evidence that your disease is progressing, should you change to a different type of drug? A proteasome inhibitor, monoclonal antibody? Should that include one of the same classes of drug, like pomalidomide (Pomalyst), which is the next generation? 

So, there are a lot of different factors that we consider. The number of drugs. So, you know, as Dr. Nadeem said, historically – there’s a lot of history in myeloma therapy, and it’s been an evolution, and so now we’ve had people who were treated with the three-drug combination that are starting, after many years, to progress. So, we might choose a monoclonal antibody for those patients because it wasn’t available at the time they were diagnosed. Versus patients now, who are typically on a four-drug regimen that includes those monoclonal antibodies and all the different classes of drugs. 

We’re looking at different and, if available, novel agents to put those patients on. And again, I think Dr. Nadeem made a really important point that I want to underscore, which is that very often our best therapies are available in clinical trials. And so when and if there is the opportunity to be on a clinical trial, you may be then able to get something that would not otherwise be available to you. So, I encourage people to always have an open mind to being on a clinical trial at any stage in their disease treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

What therapies are available for relapse or refractory disease? Are they different than other therapies? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

You know, so that’s a great question. So, yes and no. I highlighted one example that might be a little bit different, but in general, we’re very fortunate that we have multiple classes of drugs, meaning we have different drugs that work differently to kill your myeloma cells. And as Dr. Nadeem said earlier, we use those in combinations to increase the effectiveness of those medicines. Within each class we have a variety of drugs. 

You used the example of immunomodulators, and show that we have three different of those type of drugs. We have two different proteasome inhibitors. Beyond that, we have other classes of drugs that were mentioned. We have monoclonal antibodies, immunotherapies.  

And so very often we make, it’s almost like a mix where we pick what we think is going to be most effective, sometimes based on cytogenetics. The biology. Sometimes based on patient selection. What are their other medical problems, what are their current issues? And we pick the combination that we feel is going to be most effective from the different classes of drugs that we have together, usually trying to use multiple drugs in combination. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, what newer therapies are available or in development for refractory and relapse disease? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I think that the greatest interest that I think we’re all most excited about is the immunotherapy space, and I think we’ve seen – for myeloma, we see that this is a relapsing and remitting disease. 

And what’s been so exciting about CAR-T cells and the bispecific antibodies is that in patients who have had, on average, five relapses, we’re seeing tremendous results. So, complete remissions or very good partial remissions that last. In fact, can last up to two years, on average, with one of our CAR T-cell products. 

So, this is really exciting, especially when you compare to what historically has been out there for patients who have had that many relapses. And just as Dr. Nadeem said, the way that drugs enter, they enter from the relapse refractory setting, ethically that’s what makes the most sense, and they march their way forward. And so that process is happening right now as we speak, and I think like Dr. Ghobrial talked about, is the importance in early disease of thinking about using these really exciting therapies in patients who have lower burdens of disease with a goal of cure. 

And so I think all of us on this call are committed to one thing, and that is curing multiple myeloma, and even the precursors that lead up to it so that patients never have to go through the process of years and years of therapy. And so I think we’re very excited about what immunotherapy might be able to offer as we move forward in myeloma treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. Thank you for that, Dr. O’Donnell. Let’s take a few questions that we received from audience members prior to the program. Colin writes, “How is it determined as to which patients might be the best candidates for clinical trial CAR T-cell treatment?” Dr. Nadeem, we talked a few moments ago about CAR T-cell treatment. Would you like to answer this question? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Sure, I’d be happy to. So, CAR T-cell therapy is already approved. It’s FDA-approved for patients that have had four or more prior lines of myeloma therapy. So, when we think about a patient coming to us for that particular treatment that have relapsed myeloma, we’re always looking to see how much of the previous therapy they had. 

Whether they meet the indication, the labeled indication for that particular product. And then now, as we’ve discussed today, we’re studying this CAR T-cell therapy in various different phases of myeloma. Earlier lines of therapy, even thinking about studying it in high-risk smoldering myeloma, right? And then kind of looking about how we can best study this therapy in so many different phases.  

So, it all depends on where a patient is in their disease state, and then we kind of look to see whether a commercial approved CAR-T product makes sense for them, or we think about one of our several relapse CAR T-cell trials that are looking at BCMA target, which is what the approved one is, but also looking at newer targets like GPRC5D that we’ve brought up before. 

So, it encompasses a lot of different things, that question, but I think in terms of the candidacy of the patient itself, we do know that these CAR T-cell therapies have some toxicity, so we have to then weigh in terms of what medical problems they have whether they’ll be able to tolerate what the majority of patients with CAR T-cell therapy get, which is this syndrome called cytokine release syndrome, where patients will get a fever. 

And in some cases have changes in their blood pressure or oxygen levels. We have to make sure that the patient’s body can handle that. I will say we’ve gotten better and better at managing a lot of toxicities as it comes to CAR T-cell therapy. When this was first approved, it was all pretty new, but now what we’re learning is if patients are developing a fever, which the majority do, we’re intervening earlier and earlier to prevent them from getting sicker. 

So, these are things we’ve learned now, and the majority of patients get through CAR T-cell therapy toxicity period much better than they did when it was first approved. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay, thank you for that.   

Dr. O’Donnell, Alex wrote in with this question. “What is the difference between a complete response, VGPR, and PR as it applies to prognosis and maintenance after an autologous stem cell transplant?” And before you answer the question, would you define VGPR and PR for us?  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Sure. So, we have different criteria that help us understand how well a drug is working, and they’re uniformly used across clinical trials so that we’re all speaking the same language. And so we talk about a PR, a VGPR, and a CR. So, a CR is a complete response, which is 100 percent of that monoclonal protein that we initially detected is gone. We can’t measure it. Or if you have an elevated light chain, which is another piece of the protein, that has gone back down to normal.  

Taking that a step further, astringent CR is if we do a bone marrow biopsy and we can’t find any cancer plasma cells in there. A VGPR is where we see a 90 percent reduction in the amount of protein we can measure, and a PR is anything over – a partial response is anything over 50 percent. 

So, that’s a language we speak really just so that when we’re interpreting clinical trials, we all are using the same criteria. 

And so these are different terms that classify it. If the example that you gave, someone’s had a transplant, what would typically happen 100 days after that transplant is a patient would restart maintenance therapy. The classic maintenance is just lenalidomide, which is the pill that they were probably taking before that. And there’s a lot of controversy now but no good answers about changing therapy after a transplant, if you haven’t received a deep response. 

What we do know is that after a transplant, when someone goes on lenalidomide maintenance, they continue to respond. So, the greatest depth of response is not necessarily achieved in the induction phase or right immediately after transplant, but over time on maintenance. 

There’s another tool that we’re now using and incorporating, both in terms of how we assess treatment but also potentially in how we modify treatment, which is something called minimal residual disease, MRD, which goes a step beyond. When people have astringent CR, a CR, looking for really just traces of the disease on a molecular level.  

And all of those help us understand how well the patient has responded and how long that remission might last, but they’re not definitive in terms of how we should adjust treatment based on those right now. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Thank you for that. Dr. Ghobrial, this is a question we’ve received from Carlene. “Many prominent doctors claim the COVID vaccines suppress the immune system. How can boosters be justified in an already immune deficient myeloma patient? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so we think that protecting yourself and preventing COVID infections is so essential and so important. 

Especially in a patient with myeloma and especially when you’re receiving therapy: daratumumab, bispecifics, CAR-T. We want to make sure everyone is protected from COVID infections, and they are real. They are serious, and they cause death in our patients. So, every step, not only getting the vaccine but also sometimes we give tixagevimab co-packaged with cilgavimab (Evusheld) to protect our patients and protect further problems and reinfection. 

Katherine Banwell:

Remind us, what that is, the Evusheld? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Oh. It’s an antibody to help us prevent the COVID infection, so as a prevention method rather than as a treatment method.  

The other thing that we think of is the immune system is already altered in myeloma. It’s even altered or changed even as early as MGUS and smoldering myeloma. So, when we’re walking around and thinking, “Oh, I have only a benign design of MGUS,” that’s not true. The immune system has already started to change as early as MGUS, and in many of us as we get older. 

So, we have to be more protective and we have to be more careful with our patients. But as we get to even myeloma, before we even treat it, before we use the drugs that kill plasma cells, good and bad plasma cells, which secrete antibodies that fight infections, we are already at risk for COVID infections. 

And then our drugs, unfortunately, don’t only kill the malignant or the bad plasma cells, they also have a small side effect of killing also your normal plasma cells, and these are the ones that make antibodies to fight infections. So, you are at risk and you have to be very protective and careful with yourself. 

Katherine Banwell:

Is there any research on predicting hereditary risk of myeloma? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so part of the PROMISE study is trying to understand what is the risk of developing myeloma. So, we’re recruiting people who are either African American because they have a three times higher chance of developing myeloma compared to the White population, as well as people who have a first degree family member with a plasma cell disorder.  

Or even any blood cancer because now we see that CLL and lymphoma and myeloma can actually come together. And we’re now doing something called whole genome sequencing of all of the DNA that you inherit from Mom or Dad called the germ line. Basically, we try to see did you inherit the gene from Mom or Dad that increases your risk to myeloma? 

Now, it’s not as high as something like BRCA1 mutation or 2 mutation, where if you have that, you’re high, high chance of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer and so on. We probably have several factors that need to be put together. You inherit something and then the environment adds something, and then as we get older, we get the hit. 

Or you inherit something that changes your immune system, and that allows the plasma cells to start proliferating faster because they are reacting as an immune cell, and that allows the hit of myeloma to happen. And we’re working on that, and we would really encourage everyone who has a relative with myeloma, sign up on PROMISE study. 

Because that’s how we can get the answer. That’s how we can say it’s not because you are an African American or you’re White. It’s not because you have a first-degree family member or not. It’s because of this gene. So, taking away race, taking away all of those factors, taking away age and trying to go back to the biology. Is it a certain gene, is it the certain immune cell that makes us go to that risk? 

And then Dr. O’Donnell is really taking it to the next level. Now what is in the macro environment? So, we talked about what we inherit, but it’s like nurture and nature, right? So, nature is the genetics and then nurture, what do we eat? What do we change? Obesity, health, all of those things change our inflammation level and change our ability to basically prevent those myeloma cells from starting or from continuing to progress. And she can potentially talk about her work on microbiome, on the tiny bacteria that are in our body from what we eat. So, maybe, Betsy? 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay.  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Absolutely. Yes, so one of the things that particularly interests me is the effect of lifestyle on our risk of getting cancer. 

And specifically within plasma cell disorders, and I think there have been other cancers, breast cancer and colon cancer, where they’re a couple steps ahead of us just in understanding the influence of things like obesity and the gut microbiome. So, the specific bacteria that are within your intestinal tract. It makes a lot of sense in colon cancer, but we think that that’s not limited to diseases like that. We actually think that these microbiomes, which are influenced by the foods that you eat, may have a relationship with your immune system. And remember, myeloma is a cancer of the immune system. 

So, we’re all working together on our team here on a very scientific level to understand lifestyle influences and how they may cause or potentiate multiple myeloma. And so we’re excited to kind of bring this piece together. When you think about the spectrum of plasma cell disorders, not everybody goes on to myeloma, but a lot of people sit in these early precursor diseases, MGUS and early smoldering. 

And so are there things that people can do for themselves that might influence their gut microbiome, or if it’s the amount of body fat that we have that’s very involved in cell signaling? Can we modify those things, exercise more potentially, that will decrease our body inflammation levels or alter those pathways that have been set in process that, by altering them, may decrease the risk of going on to more advanced plasma cell disorders? 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s such great information. Thank you for answering that, and thank you all for your thoughtful responses to the questions.  

As we close out the program, I’d like to get a comment from each of you. As I mentioned at the start of the webinar, care for myeloma patients is becoming more personalized, and we’ve been talking about that throughout the program. What are you hopeful about the future of care for myeloma patients? Dr. Ghobrial, do you want to start? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

I’m hopeful that we truly cure myeloma, and no one should ever develop end organ damage. 

We should identify it early and treat it early, and no one should ever come in being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. Nadeem? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, I think I definitely agree with what Irene said, and really having a more thoughtful approach to each individual myeloma patient. As I mentioned earlier, we have so many available therapies. I want to be able to know exactly which patients need which path in terms of treatment, and which ones we can maybe de-escalate therapy, right? So, thinking about which patients do well and maybe can get away with not being on continuous therapy, and those that absolutely need it. Identifying them better to give them the best therapy. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, do you have anything to add? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

I think we all share a common goal, which is cure, and for those who we can’t cure yet, I think really working on making the experience as good as it possibly can be and focusing on the factors that we can control and optimizing those, both for patients and their caregivers who are in this journey together with the patient. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, I’d like to extend my thanks to all of you for joining us today. 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Thank you. 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Thank you for having us. 

Katherine Banwell:

And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about myeloma and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks so much for joining us.  

 

What Tests Are Essential Before Choosing a Myeloma Treatment Approach?

What Tests Are Essential Before Choosing a Myeloma Treatment Approach? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan, a myeloma specialist, discusses the types of tests that myeloma patients should undergo before choosing therapy, at diagnosis, and if they relapse.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What testing should take place before choosing a myeloma treatment?  

Dr. Khan:

I thought I could answer this question in an indirect way first.  

Katherine:

Okay.  

Dr. Khan:

I just wanted to let the audience know that anyone, including those that are not in the medical field, can create an account with the nccn.org. That’s the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s website.  

And from there they can download the myeloma guidelines, which are available to all myeloma providers as well. And in the guidelines, there are sections for workup, treatment, how to follow patients with myeloma, and many other things.   

So, going back to the question, the first patient encounter will likely include a thorough history and physical exam. Initial lab work includes blood counts, the serum chemistries so we know about the liver and kidney function, multiple myeloma markers. And patients about get very familiar with monoclonal protein, the serum immunoglobulins, and the serum-free light chains. 

These are used as the surrogates for responses when you’re undergoing treatment for the myeloma. We will also at the first visit probably also do a 24-hour urine collection, and that’s looking for the abnormal protein in the urine.  

There’s imaging. In the past, we used to do x-rays head to toe. That’s sometimes called the myeloma survey or the skeletal survey. But the new recommendations are actually looking for something a bit more sensitive.  

So, at our practice, what we do is a PET scan.  

So, that includes functional information as well the images themselves. And some institutions may do a PET scan head to toe using low-dose radiation. The final test we will do in patients with newly diagnosed myeloma is a bone marrow biopsy and an aspirate. 

So, the biopsy’s looking at the bone itself and the architecture. And the aspirate, you take the liquid part of the bone marrow, and you can ascertain a lot of information including the burden of myeloma when the patient’s newly diagnosed.  

Katherine:

What do you mean by “burden”?   

Dr. Khan:

You can quantify the number of cancerous plasma cells in the bone marrow. So, some of the information says you have a healthy amount of good bone marrow cells, 50 percent, 60 percent, for example, but of that 50 percent, 60 percent, maybe 80 percent is taken over by myeloma. So, you will get burden of myeloma information from there.  

Katherine:

What additional testing should take place following a relapse?  

Dr. Khan:

I’ll start that response by first talking about the types of relapses, and there are two broad categories. If we see the myeloma coming back as just the monoclonal protein going back up from its lowest, or maybe the serum-free light chain going up – and there are very specific criteria for what defiance a relapse. But if it’s just a number, we call it a biochemical relapse.  

On the other side, there’s a clinical relapse. And at that point, there might be new end organ damage. We’ve heard of the acronym CRAB when we’re describing myeloma. That stands for hypercalcemia, renal or kidney insufficiency, anemia, and bone disease. So, these are end organ damage directly from the multiple myeloma. 

So, typically, we’ll try to change the management at biochemical relapse, because a new organ injury may contribute to the patient’s frailty, or it might even limit the treatment options. The testing out of relapse is pretty similar to the first diagnosis. We’ll repeat the history and the physical example, the labs, imaging. And more often than not, I’ll also recommend a bone marrow biopsy to see is that myeloma changing genetically, and does it help me kind of determine new treatment options.  

How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?

How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Melissa Alsina reviews the test results that are taken into consideration when choosing a treatment approach for patients.

Dr. Melissa Alsina is an associate professor of medicine in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida where she also serves as head of the Multiple Myeloma Transplant Program. Learn more about Dr. Alsina, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

We know that patients undergo testing when diagnosed. How do test results affect treatment choices? 

Dr. Alsina:

So, in general, we do a bone marrow, we check for the genetics of the myeloma cells, see what are the genes that are affected in the myeloma cells, and that helps us define myeloma as high-risk or standard-risk, and that can help us decide what treatment we want to give these patients. Unfortunately, it’s not totally well defined. 

I wish we could use that in a better way and there are drugs that could really target, but there is some information. We know, for example, that proteasome inhibitors are important for patients with high-risk myeloma, so we definitely try to include that in a patient that is high-risk, and the other thing is that patients that are high-risk, it’s even more important to get to that remission, so we’re going to push treatment to get there, treat these patients a little bit more aggressively. 

Other than that, depending on, for example, what are the blood counts – some patients have a lot of bone marrow involvement and their blood counts are very low. This is not common, but it happens, and so, when that happens, we might be more aggressive up front and give these patients more aggressive chemotherapy to clean the bone marrow before changing them to the more normal therapies because the treatments that we give, like Revlimid (lenalidomide), Velcade (bortezomib), Darzalex (daratumumab) can depress the counts, right? 

So we’re in that battle. The patients already have low counts, we give the treatment, the treatment lowers the counts further, so it’s hard to give these treatments in these settings. And then, the third thing that we take into account is kidneys. About 25 percent of the patients will have renal insufficiency when they are diagnosed. Some of these drugs, particularly the immunomodulatory drugs like the Revlimid are metabolizing the kidneys, so it’s very hard to dose these drugs when the patients have renal insufficiency. 

So sometimes, for these patients, we avoid the IMiDs up front. We give a different combination until the disease gets better, and then we introduce the IMiDs. We think these immunomodulatory drugs like Revlimid are super important in the treatment of myeloma, so we want to give them, but sometimes we have to delay starting them until the patient’s kidney function improves.  

Could a Myeloma Clinical Trial Be Your Best Treatment Option?

Could a Myeloma Clinical Trial Be Your Best Treatment Option? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Saad Usmani, a myeloma expert, explains why clinical trials should always be considered when choosing myeloma therapy. Dr. Usmani also discusses common misconceptions about clinical trials and provides key questions to ask your doctor about this treatment option.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Where do clinical trials fit into treatment?

Dr. Usmani:

So, as a clinical researcher, I’m a big proponent of telling my patients that if there’s a clinical trial that’s available to you, it doesn’t matter which stage of disease you’re at. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, or another myeloma has come back. Consider a clinical trial as your first and best option. Talk to physicians about both the standard of care options as well as clinical trial options.

Most clinical trials in myeloma are not someone getting treatment and the other person not getting anything. The trials that we’re doing, patients are getting at the very least the standard of care treatment. So, I would say that the – yeah. I mean, the clinical trials end up being the best option for majority of patients instead of standard of care.

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. If a patient is interested in participating in a clinical trial, what question should they ask their doctor?

Dr. Usmani:

The question that they should ask each time when you’re at that fork is can you please share with me what clinical trial options I have and compare them. Give me more information about “How do they compare with the standard of care treatments that are being offered?” And if you do not have any clinical trial options, would it be worthwhile, to again seek an opinion at a myeloma center of excellence to see if there are clinical trials available.

And in today’s day and age, you can have a virtual consult with a myeloma center of excellence. You don’t have to even go in. You can just chat with an expert on video and see if a clinical trial maybe right for you.

Katherine Banwell:

Are there common misconceptions you hear from patients concerning clinical trials?

Dr. Usmani:

Yeah. I think the most common perception patients have is “Oh, I’m going to be used a guinea pig for something that hasn’t been used in humans before.”

Katherine Banwell:

In a human before. Exactly.

Dr. Usmani:

So, most of the clinical trials are not first in human trials. Yes. We do have first in human trials where we are using novel treatments in some instances.

But there is strong rational and safety guardrails built around that. And if you’re participating in a first in human study, it’s highly likely that the other treatments have stopped working and there might not be other options. However, majority of trials that patients end up participating in are getting at least the standard of care treatment. So, I think it’s very clear to kind of communicate this to patients that, “Hey, you are going to be getting a standard of care treatment even if you go on the quote unquote control arm. It’s not that you’re getting placebo.”

So, I think clarifying what the protocol is, giving patients information kind of alleviates some of those concerns. But that’s the most common misconception people have. 

What Do Myeloma Test Results Reveal About Prognosis and Treatment?

What Do Myeloma Test Results Reveal About Prognosis and Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert, Dr. Saad Usmani, discusses how risk stratification is used in the care and treatment of patients with myeloma. Dr. Usmani reviews important test results that are used to classify low- and high-risk myeloma and the impact on treatment choices.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

How can the results of these tests affect prognosis and treatment?

Dr. Usmani:

So, currently for the most part, we’re treating myeloma patients in a similar fashion. Except for some tweaking based on these quote unquote high-risk features. So, there are certain chromosomes abnormalities that tell us that a patient has a higher chance of relapsing early even if they get the standard of care treatment. So, we try to enroll those patients into a clinical trial or have better optimization of their induction treatment and their maintenance strategy.

So, identifying these high-risk abnormalities is important because our treatment decisions may be modified for that patient’s disease. Or we might be able to get them to a clinical trial sooner than later.

Katherine Banwell:

Right. What is risk stratification? And how is it used in patient care?

Dr. Usmani:

So, risk stratification helps us identify people who are going to do well in terms of getting to a good response and maintaining that response and maintaining being progression free or being disease free versus those folks who maybe relapsing sooner. And that’s called risk stratification. So, you are essentially identifying and dividing patients into two different buckets saying, “All right. I have to pay attention to this person a bit more because they can relapse soon. So, I’m going to be keeping an eye on their labs and such very much, much closely.”

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk about therapy for myeloma patients. How are low-risk patients treated?

Dr. Usmani:

So, typically, the low or standard risk patients are treated with at least a three-drug induction treatment at the time of diagnosis. Or sometimes with four-drugs if you combine an antibody treatment. There are various regimens but the standard of care is at least three drugs. Then for patients who may be eligible for a stem cell transplant, they go on to receive autologous stem cell transplant. Once they’ve recovered from the stem cell transplant, they go on to maintenance treatment.

And the idea is that the induction along with stem cell transplant for those patients who are eligible gets patients to as deep as a response as possible. And the concept of maintenance is you maintain them in that response and delay the disease from coming back.

Katherine Banwell:

Right. And then what about high-risk patients? How are they treated?

Dr. Usmani:

So, for high-risk patients, we typically prefer using a four-drug regimen. Either daratumumab RVD or carfilzomib with Len Dex or KRD as induction treatment for high-risk patients. After the stem cell transplant, most patients would continue both the lenalidomide as maintenance along with the proteasome inhibitor. If patients had low or standard risk disease, they would only be getting lenalidomide as maintenance. So, here for high-risk patients, you’re adding a proteasome inhibitor. 

What Is Personalized Medicine for Myeloma?

What Is Personalized Medicine for Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Saad Usmani defines personalized medicine for myeloma patients and reviews factors that are considered when tailoring treatment to a specific patient.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to join us today. Before we delve into the discussion, let’s start by defining a term that we’re hearing more frequently. What is personalized medicine?

Dr. Usmani:

Personalized medicine is a fancy term to examine different aspects of a patient’s health outside of their cancer diagnosis. And also, the cancer itself – factors that are associated with good response to treatment or an early relapse from treatment. So, it’s a holistic kind of an approach that looks at all of these factors together. Also, looks at the patient’s mental and social well-being and comes up with a game plan for them.

So, I would probably divide the various factors that kind of come into play with the personalized medicine or personalized approach to cancer treatment by taking into account factors that are patient related, factors that are cancer or disease related, and then factors that are related to treatments that they maybe receiving.

So, these three kinds of combined together to form a plan that is unique to that individual patient. 

Which Myeloma Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know

Which Myeloma Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should you know before deciding which treatment is best for YOUR myeloma? Myeloma expert Dr. Saad Usmani reviews essential testing that may help guide treatment decisions, and discusses the impact of risk stratification on myeloma care. Dr. Usmani also provides an overview of treatments in development, the importance of clinical trials, and shares why he’s hopeful about the future of myeloma research.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

Download Guide

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello. And welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how to access the most personalized care for your myeloma and why you should insist on essential testing. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Okay. Let’s met our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Saad Usmani. Dr. Usmani, would you introduce yourself please?

Dr. Usmani:

Certainly. Thank you for inviting me, Katherine. I’m Saad Usmani. I’m the incoming chief of myeloma at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Katherine:

Excellent. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to join us today. Before we delve into the discussion, let’s start by defining a term that we’re hearing more frequently. What is personalized medicine?

Dr. Usmani:

Personalized medicine is a fancy term to examine different aspects of a patient’s health outside of their cancer diagnosis. And also, the cancer itself – factors that are associated with good response to treatment or an early relapse from treatment. So, it’s a holistic kind of an approach that looks at all of these factors together. Also, looks at the patient’s mental and social well-being and comes up with a game plan for them.

So, I would probably divide the various factors that kind of come into play with the personalized medicine or personalized approach to cancer treatment by taking into account factors that are patient-related, factors that are cancer- or disease-related, and then factors that are related to treatments that they maybe receiving.

So, these three kinds of combined together to form a plan that is unique to that individual patient.

Katherine:

Right. What tests are necessary to help understand a patient’s specific disease both at diagnosis and prior to treatment?

Dr. Usmani:

So, the testing includes – what’s the objective of testing – we do tests to help in diagnosis to assess how much of cancer we’re dealing with and then what kind of cancer we’re dealing with. Even within a given cancer, how much cancer you have and what kind you have is important. Folks can have a little bit of cancer in

terms of burden. But it can be aggressive in its nature. So, you can have King Kong at your door, or it could be the green giant just trying to serve up veggies. Whereas King Kong will bite your head off.

So, with that in mind, there are things that we do such as blood tests to see effects on blood counts, kidneys, liver. We also do certain blood tests to identify what kind of multiple myeloma a patient may have as an example. So, the kind of myeloma protein they’re secreting. The kind of light chain they’re secreting. Then urine tests are done to see if there are any proteins that are leaking through the kidneys if there is kidney damage. Then bone marrow biopsy to a) look at how much myeloma and b) what kind by specific testing that we do on the bone marrow biopsy. And then imaging to see what parts of the bone’s affected.

Katherine:

Great. I’m assuming that these tests will help with the opening of the stages of myeloma.

So, how is myeloma staged?

Dr. Usmani:

So, the staging of myeloma is still a work in progress. The reason why I say that is we have a good way of accessing how much myeloma a patient may have. But if we don’t combine it well with what kind or how aggressive it may be. So, staging in myeloma relies on two blood tests that are serum albumin and serum beta-2 macroglobulin.

And they help us give a good assessment of how much myeloma patients have. And maybe a little bit of information about whether patients may have a bit more aggressive kind. But then you overlay that with cytogenetic information from the myeloma cells that are from the biopsy as well as another blood test called LDH.

If patients have any of the quote unquote high risk features, they are – along with a high level of beta 2 microglobulin, you stage them as stage three. If they don’t have them, they’re stage one. If they have some of the features, they’re kind of in between in stage two. And that’s how we stage multiple myeloma.

Katherine:

You mentioned cytogenetics. What testing is involved in that?

Dr. Usmani:

So, bone marrow biopsy – it’s very broad. But there are two parts to it.

One part is getting the bone marrow aspirated where we insert a needle into the pelvic bone and get parts of the bone marrow – the blood inside the bones out. And look at how much percentage of plasma cells are there. What kind of surface markers or features they have.

And then we look at if those cancer cells have any chromosome abnormalities that are unique to myeloma. And some chromosome abnormalities can be high-risk.

What does high-risk mean? High-risk means if you treat patients in a certain fashion, they have a higher chance of relapsing or a higher chance of the myeloma coming back out of remission. So, we identify those features by way of looking at cytogenetics. And there are different techniques in which we can take a look at that.

Katherine:

And what are those techniques? There’s something called FISH, right?

Dr. Usmani:

Yes.

Katherine:

And flow cytometry and also next generation sequencing?

Dr. Usmani:

Yes. So, and there is also conventional cytogenetics. So, flow cytometry looks at the different proteins that are part of the surface of any cell – any blood cell for that matter. It could also be any other cell as well, not just blood cells.

But in this particular case when we do flow on the blood marrow aspirate, we’re looking for unique features of those myeloma cells. But that does not tell us anything about the chromosomes. Conventional cytogenetics is the old fashion way. It’s a 40 – 50-year-old technique in which you make the cells in a test tube. You make those cells go through cell division. Each human cell has 46 chromosomes or 23 pairs. And when the cells are dividing, those chromosomes kind of line up in the center.

And the old fashion technique of conventional cytogenetics was take a look at the cells when those cells – when the chromosomes are aligned, and see if some parts of the chromosomes are missing or one chunk of one chromosome has attached to the other. That’s the old fashion way. The FISH technique, what it does is it’s geared toward identifying specific abnormalities.

And one part of that particular protein or molecule that goes and attaches to that chromosome has a color-coded probe. So, you can see within a cell different colors light up. And based on those unique features, you can identify “Okay. This cell over here is missing a part of chromosome 17. Or this part of chromosome 14 is attached to chromosome 4.” That’s FISH. So, FISH is very specific. Conventional cytogenetics is not. Next-generation sequencing, there are – that’s a broad term. You can measure different types of nucleic acids: RNA versus DNA. And those different techniques identify specific – they can identify specific mutations in a cancer cell.

So, each of these techniques provide different layers of information for our myeloma patients.

Katherine:

Thank you for that explanation. I appreciate it. How can the results of these tests affect prognosis and treatment?

Dr. Usmani:

So, currently for the most part, we’re treating myeloma patients in a similar fashion. Except for some tweaking based on these quote unquote high-risk features. So, there are certain chromosomes abnormalities that tell us that a patient has a higher chance of relapsing early even if they get the standard of care treatment. So, we try to enroll those patients into a clinical trial or have better optimization of their induction treatment and their maintenance strategy.

So, identifying these high-risk abnormalities is important because our treatment decisions may be modified for that patient’s disease. Or we might be able to get them to a clinical trial sooner than later.

Katherine:

Right. What is risk stratification? And how is it used in patient care?

Dr. Usmani:

So, risk stratification helps us identify people who are going to do well in terms of getting to a good response and maintaining that response and maintaining being progression free or being disease free versus those folks who maybe relapsing sooner. And that’s called risk stratification. So, you are essentially identifying and dividing patients into two different buckets saying, “All right. I have to pay attention to this person a bit more because they can relapse soon. So, I’m going to be keeping an eye on their labs and such very much, much closely.”

Katherine:

Let’s talk about therapy for myeloma patients. How are low-risk patients treated?

Dr. Usmani:

So, typically, the low or standard risk patients are treated with at least a three-drug induction treatment at the time of diagnosis. Or sometimes with four-drugs if you combine an antibody treatment. There are various regimens but the standard of care is at least three drugs. Then for patients who may be eligible for a stem cell transplant, they go on to receive autologus stem cell transplant.

Once they’ve recovered from the stem cell transplant, they go on to maintenance treatment.

And the idea is that the induction along with stem cell transplant for those patients who are eligible gets patients to as deep as a response as possible. And the concept of maintenance is you maintain them in that response and delay the disease from coming back.

Katherine:

Right. And then what about high-risk patients? How are they treated?

Dr. Usmani:

So, for high-risk patients, we typically prefer using a four-drug regimen. Either daratumumab (Daralex) RVd or carfilzomib (Kyprolis) with len dex or KRd as induction treatment for high-risk patients. After the stem cell transplant, most patients would continue both the lenalidomide as maintenance along with the proteasome inhibitor. If f patients had low or standard risk disease, they would only be getting lenalidomide as maintenance. So, here for high-risk patients, you’re adding a proteasome inhibitor.

Katherine:

Right. I see. Okay. And where do clinical trials fit into treatment?

Dr. Usmani:

So, as a clinical researcher, I’m a big proponent of telling my patients that if there’s a clinical trial that’s available to you, it doesn’t matter which stage of disease you’re at. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, or another myeloma has come back. Consider a clinical trial as your first and best option. Talk to physicians about both the standard of care options as well as clinical trial options.

Most clinical trials in myeloma are not someone getting treatment and the other person not getting anything. The trials that we’re doing, patients are getting at the very least the standard of care treatment. So, I would say that the – yeah. I mean, the clinical trials end up being the best option for majority of patients instead of standard of care.

Katherine:

Who is stem cell transplant right for?

Dr. Usmani:

So, stem cell transplant are kind of a misnomer. There is nothing magical about getting your own – collecting your stem cells and giving them back to you. I think the stems cells are – the way that – what they’re really doing is helping the patients bone marrow recover from the melphalan chemotherapy that’s given as part of the stem cell transplant because it’s melphalan, which was our first anti-myeloma medicine discovered back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. That has been a mainstay of treatment of myeloma for six, seven decades now.

But if you give high doses of melphalan, there’s certain side effects. It can damage the stem cells and delay blood count recovery. So, that’s why patients get stem cells. So, in the body of evidence we have, most myeloma patients would be eligible for a stem cell transplant either at the time of diagnosis or if they decide to collect their stem cells and hold it back for the first relapse. That would be the other setting. But age is not a barrier. It’s more about how fit a patient is. And this is where a comprehensive myeloma geriatric assessment becomes important because an eyeball test is not good enough. You need to have more complex assessment of patients. So –

Katherine:

So, this is looking at comorbidities.

Dr. Usmani:

It is looking at comorbidities.

It’s looking at performance status. It’s looking at cardiopulmonary reserve. It’s looking at cognition and mental health as well. So, all of those factors. And obviously besides that, if you don’t have good social support, then going through a stem cell transplant becomes a challenge as well. So, there’s all these factors that kind of come into play together.

Katherine:

Yeah. Dr. Usmani, how is immunotherapy advancing in this field?

Dr. Usmani:

I think that’s the big area of research and clinical therapeutics over the past five or six years is immunotherapies. And it’s a broad umbrella. There are a few things that kind of fall under it – under that category.

So, it includes antibody-based treatments, includes CAR T-cell therapies. Yeah. I mean, it’s a very active area. Again, we can have a one-day seminar just talking about all the advances that are happening in that specific space. But that’s the new frontier. I think that’s the immunotherapies play a big role in finding a cure for myeloma.

Katherine:

You mentioned CAR T-cell therapy. Is it showing a lot of promise in myeloma care and treatment?

Dr. Usmani:

It is in the relapse refractory as in the advance refractory patients as well as in early relapse patients. And we are just starting to do clinical trials in newly diagnosed, high-risk patients. So, yes. It’s showing good promise. One advantage of CAR T-cell therapy is once you get the CAR T-cell therapy, it’s a one and done deal.

You just get CAR T-cell therapy and there’s no maintenance. So, patients really enjoyed that part of being off of therapy. They go into remission and then they don’t have to take anything for months or even a few years. So, I think that’s the biggest excitement about CAR Ts.

Katherine:

Yeah. Once a patient begins therapy, how do you monitor whether a treatment is working?

Dr. Usmani:

So, as part of the diagnostic work up, we typically have identified in the blood using serum protein electrophoresis and serum free light chains. What kind of myeloma proteins these – that particular patient’s myeloma cells are making. And we can monitor them every cycle of treatment. So, every three or four weeks.

And that’s the most noninvasive way of seeing if the treatment is working. The second obviously important thing is if someone has symptoms. If they have kidney damage, if they have bone pain, all of those things start improving as you’re getting treatment. And then in some patients, we’re also looking at imaging like PET CT scans at certain time points. And at some point, we do also look at the bone marrow biopsies to see what’s really going on in the factory.

Katherine:

We often hear the term MRD, or minimal residual disease used in the myeloma space. So, what is it exactly and how is it used in patient care?

Dr. Usmani:

So, minimal residual disease is a way to measure how much myeloma is left over in a given patient.

And historically, we were simply looking at the serum proteins and the light chain levels along with just the morphology of the bone marrow to see if – kind of determine a response. But we can have a much deeper assessment of how many cancer cells as a leftover from a bone marrow biopsy by different measurements. Someone can be in a complete response with M-Spike is gone. The light chains have normalized.

Yet they can still have 10,000 – 100,000 myeloma cells still in the bone marrow. And just using the bone marrow biopsy the way that we used to, we won’t be able to see them. We’ll just see, “Oh, these look like normal plasma cells.” So, using next generation sequencing and flow cytometry, we can look at normal myeloma cells at a very deep level – one out of one million.

But these tests are highly specialized. And especially the flow cytometry requires a lot of expertise. The NGS requires good sampling at the time of diagnosis as well as subsequent specimen.

Katherine:

Here’s a question we received from a viewer before the program. Mary writes: “I was just diagnosed with MGUS, and I’m obviously very concerned. What should I be looking for and how often should I check in with my doctor?”

Dr. Usmani: That is a very good question. MGUS is a precursor disease to myeloma and other class cell muscle disorders. And based on the original homestead county data from the mayo clinic, if there were 100 folks who had MGUS, one out of 100 every year would – there’d be one percent likelihood of them progressing to myeloma or some other plasma cell disorder.

So, the overall risk say in the next 20 years for a given patient is fairly low. And what we look at when we’re determining how frequently to check the blood or see the patient is the value of that M-spike.

If it’s a high value, if it’s two or three, we’ll be checking the labs more frequently every three months or so. Maybe seeing them every six months for the first year or two. If the M-spike value is very low, it’s one gram or less, we might be just checking labs once or twice a year and seeing patients once a year. But I would highly recommend in addition to seeing your regular hematologist who diagnosed you with this MGUS to do seek an opinion at a myeloma center of excellence.

Katherine:

Okay. If a patient is interested in participating in a clinical trial, what question should they ask their doctor?

Dr. Usmani:

The question that they should ask each time when you’re at that fork is can you please share with me what clinical trial options I have and compare them. Give me more information about “How do they compare with the standard of care treatments that are being offered?” And if you do not have any clinical trial options, would it be worthwhile, to again seek an opinion at a myeloma center of excellence to see if there are clinical trials available.

And in today’s day and age, you can have a virtual consult with a myeloma center of excellence. You don’t have to even go in. You can just chat with an expert on video and see if a clinical trial maybe right for you.

Katherine:

Are there common misconceptions you hear from patients concerning clinical trials?

Dr. Usmani:

Yeah. I think the most common perception patients have is “Oh, I’m going to be used a Guinea pig for something that hasn’t been used in humans before.”

Katherine:

In a human before. Exactly.

Dr. Usmani:

So, most of the clinical trials are not first in human trials. Yes. We do have first in human trials where we are using novel treatments in some instances.

But there is strong rational and safety guardrails built around that. And if you’re participating in a first in human study, it’s highly likely that the other treatments have stopped working and there might not be other options. However, majority of trials that patients end up participating in are getting at least the standard of care treatment. So, I think it’s very clear to kind of communicate this to patients that, “Hey, you are going to be getting a standard of care treatment even if you go on the quote unquote control arm. It’s not that you’re getting placebo.”

So, I think clarifying what the protocol is, giving patients information kind of alleviates some of those concerns. But that’s the most common misconception people have.

Katherine:

If patients are concerned about voicing their concerns and I think many of us are, why should they feel like they’re a partner in their care?

Dr. Usmani:

Well, that’s the only way that they will feel empowered. And we have to remember why we’re doing this, right? So, we’re doing this so that we can alleviate the burden of this disease from our patients and give them as good of quality of life as possible. And it’s a partnership. And in that partnership, the patient is the most important partner. Everyone else – it’s like you’re the main character.

The patient’s the main character in the movie. And all of us are supporting cast around them. I think that’s how you have to approach it. That’s how – that’s why it’s very important. And of course, patients – we’re not expecting our patients to read the papers and be knowledgeable about everything. But have a general sense of what to expect and it will be – so, having a more educated patient helps them deal with treatments better and have realistic expectations of what’s to come.

Katherine:

Right. As I mentioned at the start of this program, Dr. Usmani, patients should insist on essential myeloma testing prior to choosing a treatment. As we conclude, I think it’s important to point out that some patients may not know if that can even receive these important tests. So, what key question should they ask their physician about them?

Dr. Usmani:

So, you should be asking your physician about what kind of myeloma you have? What stage of myeloma you have? How much involvement in the bones you have? Do you have any chromosome abnormalities or any features of disease that put you at a higher chance of the myeloma coming back?

As you ask these questions, your physician will be prompted to think about “Okay. Am I missing something in my work?” And you can always ask is there anything else you need to do in terms of testing to give you a better idea of how best to approach my treatment and follow up.

Katherine:

I’d like to close by asking about developments in myeloma research and treatment.

What’s new that you feel patients should know about?

Dr. Usmani:

Oh, my. We can spend a long time with this answer. I would say that we understand what’s driving myeloma as a disease. We have a better understanding of what’s going on with the rest of the immune system and the bone marrow microenvironment where the myeloma cells live. So, the treatments that are being developed right now are trying to combine different ways in which you can shut the myeloma cell down by targeting those abnormalities or those abnormal pathways. And also, to harness the patient’s immune system to go after the cancer cells. So, combining what we’re calling immunotherapy with small molecule or more cancer directed treatments.

So, I think that’s kind of where the field is headed. And it’s – these are smarter strategies, smarter treatments. And we’re moving away from old fashioned conventional chemotherapies.

Katherine:

Dr. Usmani, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s just been a pleasure.

Dr. Usmani:

It’s been my privilege. Thank you so much for inviting me to this.

Katherine:

Thank you. And thank you to all of our partners.

To learn more about myeloma and to access tools to help you become a more proactive patient, visit PowerfulPatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us today.

 

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