Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Joseph Scandura

Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Joseph Scandura from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Joseph Scandura from Weill Cornell Medicine answers patients’ burning questions.


Transcript:

Andrew:
Greetings from southern California. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program where you can ask an MPN expert your question. I’ve been living with an MPN, a myeloproliferative neoplasm myelofibrosis, since 2011. So, believe me, I have questions and I want answers just like you. I want to thank the Incyte Corporation for its financial support, but tell you, of course, that all the editorial control is our expert and our producers and me. Nobody tells us what to ask or what to say.

Okay, let’s meet today’s MPN expert. Joining us from New York City is Dr. Joseph Scandura. He is with Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City and he is also the scientific director of the Richard T. Silver Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Scandura, welcome and welcome back to Patient Power. We’ve had you before. Thanks for being with us.

Dr. Scandura:
Thanks for having me, Andrew.

Andrew:
Okay, and I should mention that Dr. Scandura is a physician-scientist, so you can see that whiteboard behind him. He spends time in the lab, as well as seeing patients, in-patients, and in clinic. So, he is meeting us, but also working on a cure and we’re gonna talk more about that and hopefully, we can get there. Okay, are you ready for our first question Dr. Scandura?

Dr. Scandura:
All set.

Andrew:
Okay. So, this one comes from Philip who writes and he says, “I’m a 63-year-old male with PV, polycythemia vera. What does it mean that my blood is too thick?”

Dr. Scandura:
What it’s probably referring to, the term too thick is a little bit – can be generalized in a lot of different directions. It’s a colloquial term, not really a medical term, but what people often are referring to there in the context of polycythemia vera is too many red blood cells. If you think of the blood vessels in your body as being highways, they can only accommodate a certain amount of traffic. And you being in southern California are probably aware of this, that sometimes there’s too many people trying to get on the highway at the same time and that slows everything down. You could consider the highways too thick in that situation and that’s what’s really happening in polycythemia vera.

There’s too many red blood cells. There’s about 1,000 red blood cells for every of the white blood cells there, so the most common blood cell type and they occupy about half of the whole blood volume. And when you have too many being produced, they end up causing traffic jams in the blood vessels and that is what people are trying to describe when they’re saying the blood is too thick.

Andrew:
And you’re at risk for stroke and blood clots?

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah. So, it has a lot of both short-term and long-term consequences. Short-term certainly it provides a risk of having abnormal blood clots. That can be in an artery, so that could be a stroke, an artery in your brain, or an artery in your heart, a myocardial infarction or heart attack. It can also be a clot in a vein and so these, I’m sure you’ve seen them on TV, the advertisements for DVT or deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism which is usually a clot in a vein that then has broken off and traveled through the circulation and landed in the lung where it can cause symptoms there. And so, the short-term risks of a clot are certainly elevated in people with polycythemia vera when the blood counts aren’t controlled.

Andrew:
Okay. Just one follow up question. Philip was wondering about this too. So, we see ads on TV whether it’s the DVT medicine ads or the blood thinner ads. Does that apply to people with PV?

Dr. Scandura:
It can. We treat people with PV to reduce the risk of a clot, but some people are diagnosed with a clot at the same time they’re diagnosed with PV and some people, even with the best of treatment, end up developing a clot. If it’s a clot in the vein, then one of the things that is a standard of care is to administer drugs that colloquially again are referred to as blood thinners. In this context, it has a different meaning and this is a group of drugs that interfere with the blood clotting system. So, these are proteins, not cells, and it’s what – if you ever have cut yourself and you feel just with your fingers, it gets a little sticky between the fingers. That’s actually clotting.

It’s a little bit like Jell-O. It starts out liquid and then it solidifies and that’s what your body does to help prevent bleeding. It forms this sort of polymer fiber that ends up being part of the plug. And what the blood thinning medications, the so-called blood thinning medications, do is they interfere with that process. Either given by injection or given by pill, the ultimate goal is to reduce the formation of that sort of sticky acellular clot. And that’s more of a treatment and can be a preventative for future clots as well, but it’s a little different than what we were talking about before in terms of too thick blood from too many red blood cells.

Andrew:
Too many cells versus the quality of the cells.

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah, but not even the cells. A lot of the blood clotting factors are produced by your liver. They’re not from the cells themselves that are floating around in the blood.

Andrew: I’ve never understood that before. So, thanks for explaining. I should also just say one thing about Philip. He shared with us that he has AFib. So, when somebody, and that’s not uncommon atrial fibrillation, does that complicate all the treatment for somebody with PV?

Dr. Scandura:
Well, one of the risks with AFib, some of them can be just related to the heart, it can disturb a little bit in how the heart functions and if people have some mild symptoms, AFib can make symptoms worse just from a heart function standpoint. But one of the things that’s related to, again some of the commercials you see on TV and the rationale for blood thinners, is the heart – the atrium, the left atrium which is really what fibrillates, which is just – normally the heart is pumping like this, all together coordinated. And what fibrillation means is it’s sort of not doing that. It’s going like this and what happens is the blood and the surface of the heart ends up not being pushed out normally.

And sometimes actually clots can form on the surface of that fibrillating heart and then when they get pushed out, they can travel. And because it’s usually the left atrium where this happens, when they travel they go into the arteries and then they can form clots and that can be stroke is the big thing people worry about. So, you can have atrial fibrillation that puts you at risk for stroke and that’s why people think about anti-coagulation medications to prevent that risk. And so, again, that’s another rationale for blood thinner, although it has nothing to do with the blood being too thick. It has to do with atrial fibrillation itself.

Andrew:
Okay. So, two things going on. Here’s a question we got in from Julie. Julie says, “What is the significance of a very low allele burden in a JAK2 positive patient?” And may you could define allele for us too.

Dr. Scandura:
Sure. So, as you know, we have some of our genes from mom and some of our genes from dad and the genes that we get are always in these two copies. And so, one copy from mom, one copy from dad, and they’re mixed and matched while we’re being sort of grown up from the embryo. But what happens in MPN is sometimes one of those copies, always starts with one of them, becomes mutated and that can be for instance, in the most common mutation, in the JAK2 gene, JAK2 V617F, a particular mutation that’s associated with abnormal function of the JAK2 gene product. And so, if we have just one copy in a cell, then one copy’s normal and one copy is mutant.

So, if we are talking about that one cell, that variant allele frequency, so that’s the abnormal gene. The proportion of all the genes that are abnormal would be 50%. Right? One abnormal, one normal. But now we think about all of the blood cells, trillions upon trillions of blood cells and then we have to take sort of an average of all of those cells. Some of them will be normal, some of them will be MPN cells, some of them will have one copy normal, one abnormal, some two abnormal, and some both normal. And so, when we look in a composite from a blood draw which is generally what people are sending, it’s a representation of how many abnormal alleles are present among all of the alleles of all of the DNA from the blood cells that’s been selected.

So, what a low variant allele frequency means that the proportion of mutant alleles in that sample of your blood is low. So, low would be maybe 10% or 5% or something like that and what is the significance of that? It’s an area a little bit of some debate, but there’s certainly a number of studies that have shown a correlation between the variant allele frequency in blood and the disease type itself. So, for instance, essential thrombocythemia, or ET, generally has a lower bearing allele frequency than myelofibrosis for the same mutation. And polycythemia vera is often in between.

Andrew:
While we’re talking about genes, I just wanted to bring in this question from Jocelyn because we’ve been learning are we JAK2 positive, are we CALR positive, these others that you’ve been discovering. So, Jocelyn said, “In 2006 I tested positive for JAK2 V617F. In 2018 I was told that I’m not JAK2V617F positive, but that I’m CALR positive. So, is it common for mutations to change and what does it mean?”

Dr. Scandura:
So, it’s not common for the mutations to change in terms of going away if they’re present, although there are certainly examples of this happening. It’s not common. What is probably a little bit more common is sometimes people have one mutation or a couple mutations and then sometimes more mutations are found later. And that often, not always, is linked to the disease changing its character itself. So, somebody with polycythemia vera having more of a fibrotic phase of the disease. In this situation, it’s a little hard to know exactly what happened, but there is a fair amount of variability from one laboratory or one test type to another in terms of sensitivity and the specificity of what is being detected.

So, JAK2 may have been at a very, very low level, could have been an erroneous measure, or it could have been at a relatively low level and the calreticulin mutation wasn’t tested for. And then later somebody retested with a different test that wasn’t sensitive enough to pick up the JAK2 mutation and they looked for a CALR and now that’s coming up positive.

So, the testing modality, the type of test that’s being done, and its individual sensitivity is an important part of this story and it’s a little hard, I think even for many physicians, to sort of get their heads around because it’s not like a blood count where you have international standards and basically a half-dozen equipment makers everybody uses across the world. There’s a lot of different technologies, each of which have little wrinkles to them that can limit somewhat exactly what’s being reported.

Andrew:
Okay. Here’s another one we got. This was actually asked by several people. Nick, Maggie, and Philip all want to know related to phlebotomy. What are the goals of phlebotomy as a treatment and how does it work and when do you know when it’s time to switch from phlebotomy to medication?

Dr. Scandura:
Right. So, I just came from a conference the end of the week and this is a topic of debate among physicians. When, whether to do phlebotomy? Whether phlebotomy therapy by itself is sufficient? What are the alternatives and when to make those decisions? I would say, I can tell you what my own feeling is. I feel that there is good support to justify that, but to be totally honest, there are physicians who feel differently than I do and I don’t know if any of us can claim to be absolutely correct. But I think we can all agree that the goal of phlebotomy in the short term is basically to take cars off the highway.

If you go back to the analogy of having too many cars on the highway causing thickened blood or this sludging from the red blood cells, this is a therapy specific to polycythemia vera, is that phlebotomy is just a very simple way of taking blood out of the system, taking cars off the highway. So, if you were to imagine and I frequently imagine this in New York City, is all of the sudden a third of the cars disappeared, it’d be a lot easier to get around. And so, that’s really what the goal of phlebotomy is, is to make it a little easier on your body to pump the blood around because there’s less resistance to having all that traffic in the vessels. How much? Go ahead, you had a question.

Andrew:
I was just gonna say, but debate about when to leave phlebotomy behind and have medication try to do the job when you prove one or others that may be coming.

Dr. Scandura:
So, I think the first goal is to get people under what would be considered control. So, an adequate level of traffic. And the numbers that are generally accepted by people in the field is having a hematocrit, that’s the portion of blood occupied by red blood cells, in males it’s below 45% and in females below 42%. Although we can all argue about that a little bit. I think people settle down around those numbers.

When is too much? My personal feeling and this is where there isn’t great data, so you’re left with opinion, but my personal feeling is it depends a little bit on the patient, the convenience, and I find that people who are getting phlebotomy more than four or five times a year, it ends up being a real burden on them in terms of the amount of time that they’re having, poor control of their polycythemia vera, and the amount of time required for phlebotomy, and the amount of risk of things like iron deficiency which can cause symptoms.

And then there’s some suggestion, I wouldn’t say great data, that maybe iron deficiency or repeated phlebotomy may be a risk in the long term, although I think that data is not very clear. My biggest determinant is patients, in my experience, just get a little fed up with getting phlebotomy when it gets above four, five, six times a year.

Andrew:
Okay. Thank you for that. I should mention to our audience again if you want to send in a question, whether we can use it on this program or a whole bunch we’ll be doing coming up, send it to mpn@patientpower.info. Okay, so here’s a question we got from Nick and all of us wonder about it. How often or do we need bone marrow biopsies so that you, as our doctor, and we are well informed about what’s going on?

Dr. Scandura:
So, another area where there isn’t – you know, in medicine we look for the perfect data. We’ve controlled – we treated one group of very similar patients one way, we’ve treated another group of people another way, and we compare and see who does better. What’s the better approach? This hasn’t been done for how often to check bone marrow. I think bone marrow evaluation is very important. Personally, I generally follow how the patient is doing as the primary determinant and if there are any signs that something is changing. And those signs can be how the patient is feeling, new symptoms that are arising, but oftentimes it can be just in how the blood counts are responding.

You’re on a stable dose of a medication for several years and all of a sudden it stops working or all of sudden it starts working too well. You have very low blood counts whereas before you were okay. That suggests to me something’s changing. The bone marrow is the factory for all the blood cells. So, if you wanna know what’s happening with the production in the factory you really have to look into the factory and see what’s going on. And so, that’s my personal threshold for doing a bone marrow, when I’m seeing something that’s suggesting that the factory is not functioning the way it was the last time I looked.

Andrew:
Okay. And for those of us who’ve had many bone marrow biopsies, and I have, hopefully where it’s done is someone who does it frequently. Usually, the anxiety we have is worse than the exam itself. It takes 15, 20 minutes, whatever and someday I’ll tell you the story of the lady down at MD Anderson who believed in voodoo and talked to the bone marrow as she was pulling it out. And it was so weird, that I was so distracted, I didn’t feel a thing, but anyway I understand it’s important.

Here’s a question that will help our friends with ET. This is from Michelle. She says – well actually now she has post-ET myelofibrosis. She says she has ASXL1 and TP53 gene mutations. Does the mere existence of these predict aggression and poor outcome? That’s what she worries about that those have been found.

Dr. Scandura:
Well, obviously every individual has their own history that they’re developing and so exactly what this means for you, for an individual, is different than what it would mean for a population of people with similar mutations. That’s really what we know in medicine. We look at people in a cross section and we say people who we can put into this bin tend to behave in that way, but within that bin, there are individuals who don’t act that way, the way that the others do. So, I would in myelofibrosis, in MDS, in polycythemia vera, P53 mutations are an area of some concern, as is ASXL1 mutations are also an area of some concern.

In ET it’s less well established and so I think because, if this was just ET and you had those mutations, I think many people, myself included, would say well, maybe we don’t know perfectly, but it is an area of some concern. I’m gonna keep a closer eye on you. Now that it has already evolved into myelofibrosis, I would say this is probably more like myelofibrosis where we know that P53 mutations, TP53 mutations, and ASXL1 mutations, can sometimes be some of the harder ones for us to treat. It’s something that, if an allogenic transplant is something that is possible, should at least be considered and discussed.

It doesn’t – speaking with a transplanter, getting typed doesn’t mean you have to get a transplant, but it gives you information and so I think that that would be a reasonable thing to do. Again, the decision at the end, it may not be the right decision for you, but it is something that is information for you to use in making informed decisions.

Andrew:
Right. I did have a consultation with Dr. Castro, who was at the time here in San Diego, exactly about that. Not to take action, but just to have the relationship and be typed, et cetera. Here’s a question we got from Paul. He says, “I was diagnosed in 2009. I take a weekly dose of 90 mg of interferon. How long can a patient continue to take interferon and what indicates a move to change treatment?”

Dr. Scandura:
So, we have people who have been treated for 20 plus years with interferon. So, I don’t know if there is a known duration which is too much. For many patients it’s a very well tolerated therapy, can be quite effective, and I think that it is one of the few medications that seems to have some disease-modifying activity. However, when to change? If it looks like it’s not working, it’s time to think about changing and that can be adjusting the dose, but I think if somebody has been on it for a long while, that’s when I think thinking about additional therapy, either adding another medication to the interferon or changing completely to a different medication.

Clinical trials, there’s a lot of activity in MPNs in clinical trials. Thankfully, over the past five years or so, it’s really been increasing. There’s a lot of options. There’s some drugs that we’re really pretty excited about right now in terms of thinking they might have some nice activity and talking to somebody about what might be a suitable treatment for you if the interferon was not working anymore.

Andrew:
Okay. Here’s a – again we’re getting similar questions from a number of people. So, Ragita, Nankin, Raven if I’m saying the name right, and Jacquelin sent in basically this question. How common is it in patients with MPNs to have bone pain? What causes it? Is there anything that can help with the pain?

Dr. Scandura:
So, bone pain is always on the list of symptoms reported by patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms. I wouldn’t say, in my experience, it’s one of the more common ones. It might be a little bit more common early in disease. Sometimes things like phlebotomy that you can actually have a rebound where the bone marrow is a little bit revved up to try to replace all those cells that were taken out, that can cause some bone pain. It can be seen in myelofibrosis occasionally and sometimes when the disease is becoming more aggressive or is having a – changing its pace. But the cause of bone pain, we think of as being related to sort of expansile pain.

So, the bone marrow, the factory for all the blood cells, sometimes is just working so hard that it causes, it irritates the bone fibers that are around the surface of the bone. There’s very little in the way of pain fibers inside the bone, but on the surface of the bone you have a lot and that expansile pain, that gives that sort of vague, achiness people often describe as bone pain. The treatment for bone pain in some ways is determined by what the cause is. If it’s just, for instance, a rebound after phlebotomy, it can last a day or two and then go away. And so, short-term symptomatic treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, NSAIDs like Motrin, can be helpful or Tylenol even.

But occasionally patients report a real benefit from things like histamine blockers which the mechanism for that is entirely unknown, but there’s certainly a population of patients who feel like the bone pain has gone away with medications like Claritin you can get over the counter. It’s worth a try. They are very well tolerated medications and not all patients have any symptomatic benefit, but a subset of people do. If the bone pain is related to the cells being too active, a very proliferative feature of the disease, sometimes it dictates treatment.

So, if you were on phlebotomy alone, well maybe it’s time to change to a more cytoreductive therapy and see if that can help with the pain. Sometimes it prompts additional evaluation. If you’ve never had bone pain, all of a sudden the blood counts are a little different, you have bone pain, it might be something somebody would think about doing a bone marrow evaluation for. Again, looking in the factory which is probably where the cause is coming from.

Andrew:
I have a couple more topics I want to cover just before we close. We’ll go just a little bit longer if that’s okay. So, Robert wrote in and said, “How does a stem cell transplant cure myelofibrosis?”

Dr. Scandura:
So, I’ll go back to that factory analogy. If you think of the bone marrow as being sort of corrupted by these MPN cells. You have, normally this is a very orderly factory. It’s producing a number of different lines if you think of it as a car factory. You can be producing red blood cells maybe your sports cars, and your white blood cells, your infection-fighting cells, as sedans, and platelets as SUVs, but it’s all very orderly and it should be proceeding in a regular way. And you get MPNs and somebody has just turned up the volume and are just cranking out a lot of cells. And sometimes that production starts becoming abnormal too and that’s more like in a myelofibrotic setting.

And so, what is the point of a stem cell transplant is really to clear out that factory, get rid of all the workers in there, and replace them with completely different workers to come in, set up shop, clean up the factory, and start normal blood cell production. There’s another part of it is, it’s not just the blood cells, it’s actually the immune system. And so, you’re giving the recipient an entirely new immune system. You have to wipe out the old immune system to allow the new donor cells to get a hold in the bone marrow and then they have to be educated to sort of relearn how to fight off infections and to figure out who is who.
So, graft versus host is one of the complications where those cells from another person come into the recipient and say, “Ah, I don’t know you. I’m going to attack.” And so, that can be a problem. It can be a short-term problem. It can be a long-term problem. It can be mild and it can be severe, but there’s another edge of that sword which is what we think of as graft versus leukemia effect, or in this case it would be graft versus MPN effect where some of those donor cells recognize the little differences between them and the MPN cells and wipe them out. And so, that’s really what you’re trying to do is allow that new immune system to find the bad actors and wipe them out.

Andrew:
Okay. You touched on something I think we’ve got to ask about and that is people are hearing in the blood cancers now the experimental and in some cases an approved approach called CAR-T, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, but again immunotherapy to train the T-cells to fight your ailment. What do you think about that in MPNs? Does it have promise?

Dr. Scandura:
I mean, it definitely has promise. It’s been a challenge in myeloid disease as a whole, so AML, MDS, MPNs have not been the first diseases where this has been shown to be successful, more lymphomas where it has had a lot of traction and some nice responses. What it really is it’s a living drug and this can be done in a couple different ways. They can be cells from yourself that then are treated in the laboratory so that they start recognizing these immune cells. You start tricking them into saying, “I’m going to attack this particular thing.” Even though they weren’t really trained to do that, they are now being tricked into doing that.

And so, in a disease like a B-cell lymphoma, most of them express a particular protein that’s on B-cells, CD19. So, if you take these CAR-T cells and you say, “Well, go out and kill everything you see that has CD19 on it”, it will wipe out a lot of those lymphoma cells. In myeloid diseases like MPNs, it’s a little harder. The targets are not so clear-cut and they’re shared with normal cells. There’s one area where I think it has the most promise is calreticulin because the mutation in calreticulin isn’t a tiny little mutation. It’s a mutation that causes a whole new end of the protein that doesn’t exist in the body otherwise.

And some of the calreticulin actually gets onto the surface of the cells so it’s displayed to the immune system, and so this is an area where I think there’s some promise for CAR-T cells to target those calreticulin mutant cells. There may be other targets as well and I think we’ll learn as time goes along. People are trying to target molecule CD123 which is expressed on certain abnormal stem cells. The problem is it’s expressed at relatively low levels on those cells. It’s also expressed on normal cells and it’s expressed at higher levels on much more common cells. So, it makes it a somewhat imperfect target, and also difficult from a drug standpoint because there’s a lot of people wearing the same mask, only some of them you want to kill. So, it can be a problem.

Andrew:
Okay. You have quite the analogies. But, I’m just gonna ask you about two more questions and then we’re gonna have to go. This came in from Linda who says, “I am CALR positive and I have many symptoms. What causes vision symptoms for me and migraines? Can that be tracked to the CALR somehow?”

Dr. Scandura:
It’s common in a subset of people with MPNs. Sometimes it’s linked to the platelets themselves, to the white blood cell count, so I would certainly unless there’s a reason not to try aspirin, that’s something that can help with patients. It may also be an indication for cytoreductive therapy, so actually trying to lower the blood counts. I don’t know exactly what disease that Linda has, but it’s one that I would think is a symptom that would warrant therapy because it can be quite bothersome.

The vision changes is something that may be related to the migraines, but it’s also something that might prompt a visit to an ophthalmologist so they can actually look at the blood vessels in the back of the eye and sometimes what happens is you can have a little irritation of the blood vessels or even clots in those blood vessels and that’s something that would definitely trigger a change or new therapy.

Andrew:
Dr. Scandura, our audience is saying, “Please, one more question, one more question.” So, if I can a couple more. Philip said, “Is iron deficiency a new normal if you have PV and you’ll, therefore, have weakness, fatigue, maybe even some cognitive issues because of anemia as well?”

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah, so I sort of fall in the camp, as I mentioned before, there’s some debate in the field and I sort of fall in the camp that if you’re getting symptoms from iron deficiency, it might suggest that something other that phlebotomy could be beneficial or could relieve that symptom. Everybody, if you take enough blood out of them, is going to become iron deficient and, in fact, most people diagnosed with polycythemia vera, if tested, actually meet the criteria for iron deficiency, not because they actually don’t have enough iron in their body, but because all of the available iron is soaked up in making red blood cells. Red blood cells are red because of iron.

So, if you think about all of the iron in your body and all of the places it’s used for metabolism and everything else, there’s a lot of enzymes that actually use iron as part of their catalytic site. A large proportion of all of the iron in our body goes to making red blood cells. In polycythemia vera, that regulation is completely abnormal and you end up just making a lot of red blood cells that aren’t needed and it soaks up all the iron. Then when you start doing phlebotomy, you’re taking all of that extra iron and you’re taking it out, but the bone marrow still wants to try to make red blood cells. So, it continues to scavenge as much of the iron as it can.

So, iron deficiency is pretty common and if you need a lot of phlebotomies it’s universal. Some patients, in my experience, meet all the criteria for severe iron deficiency have very little in the way of symptoms. Others meet criteria for mild iron deficiency, but they’re quite symptomatic. And so, in those instances, you need to individualize a little bit. At least give a try to a different therapy and allow the iron stores to normalize and see if that improves the symptoms.

Andrew:
Okay. You used the word individualize and that’s where I wanted to wrap up. So, you alluded to earlier, that you were encouraged by new medicines coming for MPNs and you have your whiteboard behind you where you’re charting things and I hope, Joe, coming up with a cure of tomorrow for all of us. How encouraged are you in the near term and the longer term for beating back or even curing these diseases?

Dr. Scandura:
I think we’re gonna cure these diseases, I do. I don’t know if it’s gonna be this year, but I think that the number of tools we have to understand how these diseases work and the number of new drugs that are being developed that have real promise, like real mechanistic reasons why they should work, I think is going to yield, reap rewards over time. People have heard this for a long time. The war on cancer has been going on for a long time, but I think we didn’t have the tools that we have now for that entire duration. Right now, we can sequence a genome in a week of a person. Now, do you need to do that? No, but it allows you to get a level of information that was in the past, really just fantasy world, science fiction, and now it can be done on a routine basis.
There are, virtually all of our patients, have sequencing for 40 plus genes. It allows us to know a little bit more about what their risks are, and also gives us a spectrum of targets to start hitting. There’s models that are better than what we’ve had in the past for many of the cancers that have been targeted. Breast cancer models, you know, there’s some decent breast cancer models, but they’re very complex tumors. MPNs, for better or for worse, if you look at the spectrum of genetic complexity, they’re really pretty simple meaning that they have one to half a dozen mutations.

Now mutations aren’t the whole story, but it’s a good starting point and if you only have maybe 10, 15 genes that are currently mutated in a disease, it’s trackable. You can figure this out. You can figure out what they’re doing to allow them to win and once you know that, you start figuring out how to beat them back. And so, I think that their time is gonna come. I don’t know if it’s this year as I said, but I think it’s definitely doable.

You know, CML, when I was a kid, when I was in medical school my parents had a good friend with CML who died with CML. Now, it just wouldn’t have happened. He would have been fine, but he was on, for a long time, ineffective therapy, transformed to an acute leukemia as they all did, and then it becomes really untreatable. And now we have these magical drugs, semi-magical drugs, that for the vast majority of people just – it’s a pill a day. It’s amazing.

Andrew:
Well, you’ve got that work on your whiteboard and in the lab and your colleagues around the world and you had told me before the program started that you all are collaborating better now than ever before. So, Dr. Joseph Scandura from Weill Cornell in New York City, thanks for what you do as a physician-scientist and thanks for spending time with us today.

Dr. Scandura:
It was my pleasure and thanks for helping patients through what is a difficult ordeal I think in terms of adjusting to a diagnosis and getting information.

Andrew:
Well, thank you for joining us and Weill Cornell folks have been great and send our best to Dr. Silver too. He’s in his 90s and still going strong.

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah, he’s traveling today.

Andrew:
Thank you so much for being with us for this Patient Empower Network program. Thanks to Incyte for helping fund our series. We appreciate their commitment to the MPN community and as always, I just sign off by saying I’m Andrew Schorr and remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju

Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Pemmaraju

“Ask the Expert” session with MPN specialist Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.


Transcript:

Andrew: And greetings from near San Diego, Carlsbad, California. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. Welcome to this patient empowerment network program, and thanks to Incyte Corporation for helping make it possible. They have no editorial control. I’m a myelofibrosis patient, have been for several years, so I’m vitally interested in this. Welcome to our MPN community, and welcome to one of our favorite experts joining us from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. There’s Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju. You can see behind his desk there all the working on the cures of tomorrow, but Naveen, thank you so much for being with us.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Thanks for having me, Andrew. My pleasure.

Andrew: Okay. Let’s get right started. We’ve gotten all sorts of questions in. If you have a question, send it to MPN@patientpower.info, but we’ve gotten a lot already and I’ll start to buzz through them over the next 30 minutes. This question is from Cynthia and she says, “I was diagnosed with ET (Essential Thrombocythemia). I’m JAK2 positive,” so she has that JAK gene. “When I was 66 years old,” now she’s 68, I’m about to be 68 as well, “What markers on my blood work, asides platelets, are important for my doctor to watch? What indicates a need for another bone marrow biopsy?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well, thanks, Andrew. And thanks to the question from Cynthia out there. This is very important. This is what we talk about day-to-day, week-to-week in the clinic. There are a couple of perimeters outside of the platelets. One, I would say the most important for us to watch are the other of the big two. That’s your hemoglobin number, also known as anemia; if it’s too low, or polycythemia, if it’s too high, and then the white blood cell count is also very important. Again, if too high, or too low, it can tell us what’s going on.

With ET, the key thing is it can transform, or change into any of the other MPNs. For example, PV (polycythemia Vera), myelofibrosis, or – and I hate to mention it, but it does happen five, maybe seven percent of our patients, where the disease can go to Acute Myeloid Leukemia, AML. So, distinct blood count changes, either too high, or too low, can give us clues if the MPN is changing, or in fact, going to AML.

And so, the answer for a repeat bone marrow is based on that, which is, let’s look together, patient and provider to see if there are subtle or avert changes in the blood counts that are markedly different from the previous visit, rather than having a pre-prescribed, every three months, or every six months type of a deal.
Andrew: But, Naveen, with all you’re doing now with sophisticated testing, do you still have to poke us in the hip, or couldn’t they just do it from our arm?

Dr. Pemmaraju: I wish, Andrew. I think this is very important. I think with the juxtaposition, you have this sophisticated gene panel testing, JAK2 CALR, MPL, and yet we’re still sticking a needle in people’s backs in a very painful procedure. Nothing still has overmatched as the gold standard, the bone marrow aspiration biopsy. So, for now, we’re – pun intended, I guess – stuck with this procedure. But your point is a good one. For example, with bone marrow transplant, can you believe it nowadays, they’ve moved from not having to exclusively do it from bone marrow source to peripheral blood, so I think you’re on the right track and we need to work on different ways of accessing this important information.

Andrew: Okay. One thing about bone marrow biopsy, it doesn’t have to be painful. It’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be painful if you have somebody experienced doing it.

Dr. Pemmaraju: I wanna emphasize how right that is because at least here, at our center at MD Anderson, as you know, we have a team that is dedicated to doing it many, many people, many repetitions doing it, so there might be local discomfort, but a lot of our patients do not experience pain. I’m glad you brought that up.

Andrew: Right. And that’s been my experience both there, and at other major centers. Okay. Here’s a question from Denise. Denise says, “I have PV and I’m trying to improve my health by making smoothies containing large amounts of dark green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and watercress. I’ve been warned by some members of our community that these foods will increase iron and raise the hematocrit, putting me at risk. Is that true? And should people with PV avoid these foods that are high in vitamin K?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well, this is an important question and I remember five to 10 years ago we would say things like, “Well, we don’t really know the answer,” or you know, “Diet doesn’t really have anything to do.” But now with more and more understanding of the total therapy for patients and approach to the whole body, I think this is an important question. So, yes, iron levels do matter. Too low, then you’re iron deficient. (That can definitely happen in our patients.) Too high, potentially may fuel the fire, if you will, for polycythemia Vera.

So, I think iron levels are important to watch and certainly can be increased by what our question is being asked about. But there’s another aspect, too, that some of the medications that we prescribe and take. One example is Coumadin, or Warfarin that a lot of our patients know, which is a high-level blood thinner. It’s an anticoagulant. And man, oh, man, that is exquisitely dependent on the vitamin K pathway. So sensitive, that in some patients in some cases even salad consumption, or spinach, so healthy foods because of the vitamin K level in them can alter this level. It’s called the INR. And so, it’s something we have to watch out for.

So, not only in terms of iron metabolites, but also drug-to-drug interactions. So, it is always best to mention these things when we’re going on new medications.

Andrew: Right. Talk to your doctor.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Talk to your doctor.

Andrew: What you’re doing –

Dr. Pemmaraju: Everything.

Andrew: – what you’re eating. Yeah. Okay. Here’s a question from Sally. Sally says, “I have ET with the MPL mutation. So, I have JAK, but there’s also MPL. I believe, not much is know about my mutation. Can you shed light on it, or me and our community here today?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yeah, great question. So, when I look at these mutations as the big three, I go back to the time of William Dameshek, who hypothesized in the ‘50s and ‘60s that MPNs would be a unified group of diseases; ET, PV, and MF. And now, 67 years later, we’ve proven that. So, JAK2, we’ve known about since 2005. The most common, most major recurring mutation, fifty to 60 percent of patients of myelofibrosis. Then in 2013, 2014 the CALR mutation was elucidated. Can you believe, that’s only been four, five years. That’s the second most common. But there’s a third of the big three. That’s the least common, the MPL; MPL mutation.

That’s a mutation in something called the thrombopoietin receptor (TPO), which is in charge of helping to stimulate and make platelets. So, in terms of MPN patients, it does make sense and it has something to do with platelets, and that axis. It is the least common; by far the less common of these three, so I would say maybe something to the point of three to seven percent of our patients will have it.
Up until recently, we didn’t know if it had any prognostic significance, but our Italian colleagues published a very nice paper in Blood a few years ago, independent of the IPSS risk, that I’m sure we’ll talk about later. That if you just take patients with myelofibrosis, not ET and PV, you can stratify our patients based on the mutation risk. And not everyone knows about this.

For example, in this scoring, CALR mutation alone is the best prognosis for our patients. JAK2, or MPL is what’s called an intermediate prognosis, and the so-called triple negative, if you don’t have any of these big three, the implication being that you likely have something else, like ASXL1, then those patients tend to have the worst prognosis. So, MPL helps us to diagnose and confirm an MF diagnosis, and it also may have prognostic significance in our modern era.

Andrew: Okay. I don’t want people to freak out because this is a moving target as they learn and say, “Oh, my god. I have triple negative…

Dr. Pemmaraju: That’s right.

Andrew: Right. Okay? Because there’s progress going on all the time.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well said.

Andrew: This is what they’re learning now. Okay. Now. Here’s the big one and you mentioned it. You said, a small percentage of us with myelofibrosis have the risk of progressing to AML. I know there been a lot of new drugs now either approved, or in development for AML. And some that help people who have secondary AML.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Oh, yes.

Andrew: Right? But tell us about the risk of progression, and then what do you do about it?

Dr. Pemmaraju: Right. So, that’s a great topic, and as you know, you’ve been doing this for so long now. This has often been a very not great part of the conversation, but it’s an exciting time for our patients based on the research I’m about to share. So, the first part is progression to AML, which we touched on earlier. We do have an objective prognostics scoring system. Actually we have so many scoring systems now that many of our patients are starting to see them.

But the IPSS, or International Prognostics Scoring System, was first developed by our colleague, Cervantes et al, this is right before 2010, so ’07 to ’09. That one is supposed to be applied at diagnosis and based on five of these risk factors, we can prognosticate, or tell which of our patients are at a higher risk for AML. And so, a lot of our viewers ask that. So, it is true. Age – over a certain age, white count of 25,000, circulating blasts, constitutional symptoms, and anemia made up that original five.

Since that time, there are dynamic scoring systems, DIPSS, DIPSS+ and others that include, or modify as some of those risk factors. So, we can tell, at least based on a textbook impression, who has a higher likelihood of going to AML. Once our patients go to AML, there’s a lot of hope now. There have been four – count them – four new FDA approvals for AML in just the last 12-24 months. They apply to different segments of AMLs, two of them are targeted therapy, so one drug called Midostaurin hits the FLT3 inhibitor, one drug hits the IDH1 and 2. Actually those are two separate drugs.

The drug you were referring to had a code name CPX-351, or VYXEOS, and it does have an approved label for so-called secondary, or therapy-related AML. Although I will caution our viewers that – MPN patients, specifically, we’re not included in those early data sets. They were more geared towards patients with MDS leading to AML, but the principle is there for us.

And then finally there’s another drug called Gemtuzumab or Mylotarg. So, you have four FDA approvals, ongoing clinical trials with combination therapy, excitement and ongoing investigation for CAR-T cells, optimizing stem cell transplant, and then combining possibly MPN drugs with AML drugs in a clinical trial setting. So, I think this is actually a very, very important time to talk about AML in all of our MF and MPN sessions.

Andrew: Okay. Just one brief question, and – if someone like me, where I’m on Jakafi myself, but if that sort of poops out, or that, or another medicine is not working for me, and I’m developing AML, do you feel now it’s a more hopeful time than it’d had been previously?

Dr. Pemmaraju: I do, Andrew, and you know me. I used the word ‘hope’ very seriously and very carefully. Before with AML – and I mean, just five to seven years ago, it was not as hopeful of a time for us, as researchers, and for our patients. Not just because of the FDA approvals. That obviously is very encouraging and applies to a lot of our patients, but also because of the funding, the research, and the ideas for combination chemotherapies, and the emergence of these immune therapies. I think it’s a hopeful time for all of us involved with AML.

And specifically as you were mentioning this secondary, or post-MPN, or post-MDS AML, which is largely been an urgent unmet medical need.

Andrew: Okay. And just to everybody understands, AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, so it’s acute and as has been in the past a five alarm fire and now they’re developing medicines for that. All right. Let’s go on. Bonnie has a question. “I have myelofibrosis and my only symptom is that my spleen is enlarged. I’m on Hydroxyurea, but hesitant to switch to Jakafi or Ruxolitinib. Assuming no real discomfort and just moderate weight loss and stable blood counts, does an enlarging spleen itself cause problems?” And also, I guess the bigger question, Naveen is, is there a penalty for waiting if there is a treatment that might line up with what you got?

Dr. Pemmaraju: You’re right on. Yeah. This is very, very serious, important topic. So, for the first part of the question, the spleen itself being enlarged can in fact cause some really, really big problems for a lot of our patients. It is true, as the questioner’s asking, that one can have mild splenomegaly. So, a spleen that’s slightly enlarged, not yet causing physical symptoms of early satiety, which means getting full fast, or physical discomfort, but a lot of patients do have that. So, yes, a big spleen alone can cause not only local problems, but also systemic. Because again, it’s a disease of cytokines; messengers and proteins that are being scattered all throughout the body, causing the body to feel flu-like symptoms, or fatigue.

Now, the studies for Ruxolitinib are very specific. These are two Phase 3 studies, they are called Comfort 1 and 2, published in the New England Journal five six years ago now. And they did include patients with intermediate to, or high-risk disease. Or intermediate to high-risk disease, shall we say. And although the spleen itself doesn’t come out in the scoring system, some position is that it should be patients with more advanced, or higher scoring diseases than say someone with lower risk disease.

So, with the trial data that we have we know a couple of things. 1) The drug got approved in those more advanced patients. 2) There was early crossover that was allowed. So, one of the comfort studies, Andrew, was as you know, randomize to placebo. So, no active therapy, and one was best available therapy. Even with the early crossover allowed to the Ruxolitinib, both are not showing overall survival benefit. Translated into more layman’s terms, what that means is, it does appear, maybe, possibly, that if you got the drug at the beginning early on, there looks to have been some long-term benefit.

We won’t know that until further studies are done, and those studies are being planned. Those are called ‘early intervention’ studies, so people at a lower, earlier stage, low risk, Intermediate 1, and I think we’ll all be eager to see how that benefits our patients.

Andrew: Okay. Great. So, the penalty for waiting – right now it appears there could be a penalty. In other words, it could be better to get on it. Don’t wait. If you and your doctor agree, there’s a therapy for you.

Dr. Pemmaraju: I think that’s exactly the resource position to take, which is I think that – I believe that there are a subset of our patients who exactly fit what you said. They are symptomatic, out of proportion to the risk scores that are available. The spleen is highly enlarged, although they have lower intermediate risk by IPSS. And that’s exactly the are of investigation for myself, and our colleagues. And even in the clinic there might be some role to assessing patients as you said like that. So, it shows you the limitation of these text book scoring systems and how much research we have left to do.

Andrew: Okay. Well, you know more than you did before, so, I –

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well said.

Andrew: – I’m happy about that. Okay. So, here’s a question from Jane. She says, “I have myelofibrosis, but it’s not progressing, and I’m CALR negative.” So, that’s one. “I’m JAK negative.” That’s two. “And I’m waiting to hear if I’m actually triple negative, as you said, which would be JAK, CALR, and MPL. Are there medicines to slow progression for me?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well, that’s the ultimate question. Isn’t it? So, the first concept is this triple negative. And if our viewers have heard that before you have, that was borrowed from the breast cancer literature, which was a similar sentiment, which is having the top three markers negative. And just in that case, as in RMF, the supposition is the same, that that means that you have a higher risk disease.

But going from negative to positive, what it does mean now with the new sequencing and molecular studies that are coming out, is that it really looks like 90 percent, maybe even close to a 100 percent of patients, have some form of a molecular driver. And those other mutations you’re going to start to hear about are becoming common; ASXL1, TP53, EZH2, IDH, etc. etc. So, triple negative may mean that we don’t have those big three, but there might be something else that’s driving the MF, and it means that it’s a higher risk to progress to AML and for some patients to not do as well.

But this questioner brings up a very good point. What the textbook risk score says does not have to imply to each individual patients. So, just because the finding is that, okay. Triple negative patients as a population may do worse, it may not apply to that individual patient. So, in this person’s case, maybe they’ve been diagnosed very, very early. That’s a good thing. Maybe the driver mutations and the triple negative matter, which is what I think. So, ASXL1 mutation vs. some other ones.

And then finally, each patient is different. Everyone’s case is different. You have other co-morbidities, other underlying drivers of disease. So, I think that’s the good point. But, we do have to say, at least for right now, I like your phrase ‘of a moving target’. The understanding that if you are this triple negative disease in this classical sense, should mean that you are a higher risk at some point to progress, as compared to others in your group, and so, possibly closer monitoring and observation is necessary.

Andrew: Right. And see an MPN specialist. Because what if there’s a drug in development that’s an AS – What is it? AS –

Dr. Pemmaraju: ASXL1.

Andrew: Inhibitor. And that’s driving your bus. Right? Maybe you wanna be in that trial. [

Dr. Pemmaraju: Absolutely right. Clinical trials are important for all of our patients with any rare cancers, or any cancers in general.

Andrew: Right. Okay. Let’s go on. I just wanna take this question from Susan. It really rang true for me. Susan writes, “Is it common for an ET patient to experience numbness in the scalp, ears, and face? I’m currently on 1,500 milligrams of Hydrea daily.” And I wonder if you can broad this out because I was telling you before the program, I’m getting every once in a while – I wake up with a little prickliness. Not itchy, and I go back to sleep, but is that related to my MPN? So, she has scalp questions, is it the MPN, ET whatever? Is it the medicine?

Andrew: This is coming up in my clinic on a weekly basis. The short answer is, yes. It’s always due to the MPN. And I’m here to tell you why. This is an underappreciated part of what we do as healthcare providers in patients. For anyone who’s ever filled out the Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Symptom Assessment Form Total Symptom Score:, developed by Ruben Mesa, his colleagues, now shortened down to a nice, nifty 10 ques – sheet. You know, actually, peripheral neuropathy is one of those 10 questions. Do you have numbness and tingling? So, even though we don’t talk about it, that’s our fault, peripheral neuropathy is a thing. It’s a common aspect of the MPN.

No. 2 is – and you brought this up to me nicely as well, is some of the mediations that we prescribe at the chemotherapeutic level can also cause nerve damage and neuropathy. JAK inhibitors either as a class, or some of these individual ones, both FDA approved in clinical trials have been associated with either a central, or peripheral neuropathy. So, I think that’s another big aspect.

And then finally, I hate to say it, but these drug-to-drug interactions of all of these medicines can cause that. When you factor that, plus vitamin deficiencies, thyroid deficiencies, iron abnormalities, restless leg syndrome, our patients have a host of reasons to have neuropathy. Usually this is an intermittent phenomenon, a come and go phenomenon. When it starts to become more of a permanent phenomenon and progressive, that’s a big concern, and that would really require a separate neurologic work up.

True, there are some chemotherapy drugs that can cause that, but I would say that would necessitate a multi-disciplinary approach; neurologists and all of this kind of thing.

Andrew: Okay. You used the name of a drug that people take. Is a blood thinner, Coumadin. Somebody may take diabetes medicines, I also have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and take medicines for that. Okay. So, if we’re developing some of this and we have an MPN, which of the many doctors we have doo we go to first – do we go to you as our MPN specialist? Do we start there?

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yes. Absolutely. I think the phrase and the motto of every MPN expert that you’ll meet (and you and I know all of them now) is, ‘Tell us everything.’ Because I will tell you what. Now that we have more understanding – not full understanding yet, but more understanding of the biology of these diseases, it turns out that a lot of things that are happening are due to MPN.

One example I’ll give you, Andrew, our colleague and friend, Claire Harrison has pioneered this phrase called, ‘presenteeism’. Presenteeism. Not absenteeism, as we learned when we were younger. The concept that our patients with MPN are there, they’re here at work, with their loved ones, they’re at dinner, but they’re not really there. That’s also a question on the questionnaire; inability to concentrate. Subtle, subtle, subtle, but this is part of the MPN process. We’re not talking about it enough, but programs like this will get the message out there. So, tell your MPN doctor everything because more than likely they know it’s part of the MPN.

Andrew: I gotta tell my wife. I’ve been married 33 years.

Dr. Pemmaraju: This is all recorded, so you can tell her.

Andrew: All right. Esther, where are you? Okay. No. Let’s go on. So, Heather sent in this question. “My local hematologist, oncologist will only give me a phlebotomy after my hematocrit is over 51. What is the standard marker? I have PV and I’m really struggling with symptoms.”

Dr. Pemmaraju: I actually have data to share with you and your viewers. So, before four years ago, we did use to do it either based on convention, symptom burden, or a pre-designed abstract number. But now we have data. So, our Italian colleagues, Barbui and colleagues published in the New England Journal about four years ago a very nice paper that starts to answer this question. They randomize patients with P. Vera to two groups. They called it a liberal group, where you could get phlebotomies at any number essentially just like what’s being asked here, and then a more stringent group, which they came up with the hematocrit goal of 45 and below. Or below 45.

And the trial was actually stopped early because it showed a four-fold decrease in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. That means, four times less chance of people having cardiac events or cardiac deaths in the stringent phlebotomy group. That is when you put the goal below 45. Yes, it’s only one study, but it’s with several hundred patients with P. Vera in a nice controlled situation. So, that has become a lot of us – for us, the de facto of standard of care.
So, I would advise, if you’re a higher risk patient with P. Vera, the so-called triple therapy approach, where you’re doing, you know, baby aspirin if you qualify. The phlebotomy goal of 45 and below, and then of course, cytoreductive therapy if you need it in the higher-risk situation. So, 45 and below, it should be validated, we should do more studies here in the States, but that’s something that I think we can use with high-level data.

Andrew: Okay, thanks. Here’s a question we got in from Kimberley. She says, “My daughter is 22, she was diagnosed in 2013 with ET, and she’s been on Hydroxyurea, but is decided she no longer wants to take the med. What should she be aware of, or cautious about, given that she’s no longer taking it?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Ugh. Well, this is an area that’s very dear to me and very important to my research. With our group here, with Dr. Serge Verstovsek and my colleagues, we just published a paper on our experience with adolescents and young adults with MPN, or AYA. As its own separate field, AYA cancer has become a very important understanding that really didn’t exist, in my opinion, 20 years ago. But our patients are not always older patients. So, young patients can get MPN, too. Yes, patients in their teens and twenties can get them just like this questioner.

So, this is a type of patient that I’m seeing quite commonly in the clinic. Couple of points to say. One is, who can blame her? Who wants to take a life-long, indefinite oral chemotherapy that may or may not have short-term and long-term side effects? In our study what we found is, approximately 10 percent of our patients met this definition. The NCCN gives it, I think, age 16 to 39. So, younger than 40. And out of those patients, I was surprised to see that a good seven percent had a thrombotic event. That means a blood clot, either at the time of diagnosis just prior to, or just after. Well, that’s a pretty good clip, and that would be more than the general population than what you would expect.

The problem with the young patient with MPN has several issues. One is, what about at the time of fertility and pregnancy? Two, what about at the time of surgical procedures? I’m talking about routine things, such as dental and other care. And then three, as they start to transition into their older adult years. So, in this patient’s case, this is a very difficult thing. We don’t have many drugs. We have Hydroxyurea, we have Interferon, which possibly might be better for a younger patient. If someone has myelofibrosis, there’s no age requirements. So, if you qualify, then the JAK inhibitor, as a class.

But this is just one of those in-between, vulnerable populations, and we really don’t have great treatments for in general, an AYA cancer, and specifically here. And so, the main thing that we would say to this person is, really, really close follow-up early on with an MPN expert, as you always advocate. Two, is at the time of fertility planning, pregnancy in our family planning is to have high-risk maternal-fetal experts involved early on. (I think, this is something important.) And three, really cautious planning in and around surgical procedures, looking for bleeding and blood clots. I think those are some basic guidelines for anyone to follow.

Andrew: Well, great advice for mom and daughter. I wanted to post this, just a quick question from Caroline who lives in the United Kingdom is diagnosed with primary myelofibrosis four years ago at age 49. And she said, “I’ve tried to find others with myelofibrosis of a similar age, but so far no luck.” So, is being diagnosed at her age, age 49 with myelofibrosis, unusual?

Dr. Pemmaraju: There you go. That’s perfect. So, that also goes along with our “Young people get MNPs as well.” This was a disease – first of all a disease, now we recognize it as a cancer that was thought to be 60, 70, 80, 90 and older. And now we realize that there’s a significant subset of our populations diagnosed in their teens, twenties, thirties, and forties. So, we definitely want our question – our viewer to know, no, you’re not alone at all. Please, see our paper that we just put out there and several other of my colleagues, including Brady Stein and others.

Two is, my goodness. Not only you’re not alone, but I actually believe – and I know you know this too – that a lot of rare cancers are sometimes are under diagnosed and underappreciated. It does require expert bone marrow, expertise, someone to identify it, someone to do a bone marrow. And lastly, for this patient looking for other patients, I would refer them to sources, such as this one. Patient Power, support groups on Facebook, we have a Twitter feed, as you know, a grassroots Twitter, that’s investigators initiative called #MPNSM (myeloproliferative neoplasm on social media).

So, there are lots of different ways for this person to connect with not only younger patients with the disease, but also as a support group, virtually. And I think platforms, such as Patient Power, have frankly revolutionized the way people have obtained information, have communicated with each other, and specifically for a patient like this in the UK, who is not able to connect with me. And when there are people all over the world waiting to talk to her.

Andrew: Right. I wanna call at our friends in the United Kingdom, MPN Voice.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Oh, yes.

Andrew: It’s Claire Harrison, who you mentioned, wonderful, devoted.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Outstanding.

Andrew: She’s an expert, out of London, helps run it. So, please, connect with them. Okay, here is a question from Erin, as we’re getting near the end of our program. “Can ET ever cause systemic inflammation? And is that what causes symptoms? The inflammation.”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yes, yes, and yes. So, inflammation, I think, used to be a word that may have been potentially, if I may say, a wastebasket term, but now is a very specific term. So, now we know that a lot of our hematologic disorders and malignancies lead to a high level of inflammation. That means tissue damage. Tissue injury. That’s what inflammation means. There are some conditions that the patient does not even have a blood cancer diagnosis, but has a molecular mutation, that’s called CHIP (clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential), and those patients appear to have a higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease and death. That’s New England Journal of Medicine. The likely pathway is inflammation.

In our patients with MPN, even the quote on quote, earlier stages, such as ET and PV. This is a disease of cytokines and inflammation. So, high levels of abnormal messengers and signals. So, yes, inflammation is part of the disease, patients have a higher rate of cardiovascular events and death. That’s inflammation. And then of course, the bone marrow milieu itself, as it progresses to myelofibrosis has an up ramp, if you will, of cytokines and inflammation. Last part of it is the therapies that we’re working on are trying to either target inflammation itself, or to bring down that level.

Andrew: Okay. I wanna see if – Here’s a – one that just popped in as we get near the end of our program. Roger says, “Are there any drugs being studied that improve anemia in patients with a low hemoglobin?” What’s the easiest way to find out about clinical trials if you live out of the state, or out of the country where this trial may be –?

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yes. Your best resource to look that up is run by the Federal Government, the NH, it’s called clinicaltrials.gov, that’s dot G-O-V. This is an outstanding website, well curated, updated as quickly as they can, and it has a nice search function. You can search by investigator, disease type, condition, and there’s even a box for ‘other’ where you can type in something like ‘myelofibrosis’.

There are several drugs in development. These drugs are known as Luspatercept and Sotatercept, for example. And they’re a class of drugs that are anemia targeting in myelofibrosis and myelodisplastic syndrome. So, the answer is, yes. And you can find out these types of clinical trials either online at this website, or at other websites. But this is an important, urgent, unmet medical need that we are working on, and there are active clinical trials for patients to enroll on.

Andrew: Well, okay. And the last thing I would ask you about – and this always comes up, Naveen, but I wanna hear what you have to say is somebody we have people with ET, we have people with PD, MF, and we talked at one end about acute myeloid leukemia. What do we know about progression now? So, if I’m sitting there with ET, am I necessarily going to go onto PV, or MF? Or anywhere along the line, and how do we know?

Dr. Pemmaraju: We do know a little bit more. So, the answer is no. So, a lot of our patients do stay in the chronic phase, as you’re asking. So, if you’re ET, or PV – and our European colleagues have really done these nice population studies, where the majority – the vast majority of patients with ET and PV are expected in the modern era to have normal life expectancies as long as you’re mitigating in some bleeds, clots, and these type of events.

But for the minority, who don’t have a normal life expectancy, you’re talking about progression to AML, which is a minority of all these. Right? Maybe 5-7 percent of cases at the most. There are some things we have identified. One is that there are some dynamic acquisition of molecular mutations that are happening at the time of progression. And what I mean by that is, there are new injuries to the DNA that people appear to be picking up. So, two important studies our colleague, Raajit Rampal showed that the acquisition of TP53 mutation, which is the guardian of the genome present in 50 (five, zero) percent of human cancers. That looks like it’s more common when ET and PV are trying to take off to AML.

Another study by our Mayo colleagues just published in Blood Advances showed that other mutations, such as PTPN11, or RUNX1, just to name some particular ones, and then we’ve known about ASXL-1 now for a while. So, rapidly change in blood counts in concert with new molecular mutations, and then a baseline if you have high-risk mutations. That seems to be a way for us to predict who might transform faster than others.

Now, that’s an addition to the traditional risk factors that you and I have already discussed, the IPSS risk, or etc. So, there are some ways that we can monitor. A lot of these may be in the research setting. Some are ready for the clinic, but there are some ways now.

Andrew: Okay. So, ladies and gentlemen, I hope this program is been worthwhile for you. Remember that the big meeting of Dr. Pemmaraju and his colleagues from around the world with thousands of hematologists is this the American Society of Hematology meeting, which once again, will be, yay, near me, in San Diego.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Very good.

Andrew: Esther and I’ll just drive over. And the Patient Power team will be there, the Patient Empowerment Network team will be there. So, we’re there for you. So, look for more programs as we go through the fall, and certainly in December, when this meeting happens. And that’s where a lot of the research that Dr. Pemmaraju talks about is presented.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Right.

Andrew: And then we’ll have more news. So, we’re living with these long-term conditions, thank god for most all of us, and it’s a moving target, as I’ve described. I wanna thank you for joining the Patient Empowerment Network program, for sponsoring this program. We thank Incyte Corporation for its support, and Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju from M.D. Anderson, and the Leukemia Department there, thank you for being a partner in this, and just explaining things, and your passion. And Naveen, again, back to your whiteboard back there. Figure it out.

Dr. Pemmaraju: It’s all there. Yes, sir, Andrew.

Andrew: It’s all there. Figure it out. Okay? All right. Thank you so much for being with us from around the world. We love it. We’ve got a community. This is what it’s all about and we’ll have future ask the expert programs. I’m Andrew Schorr near San Diego. Thanks to the Patient Empowerment Network for making all this happen. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.