Tag Archive for: chimeric antigen receptor T-cell

Myeloma Maintenance Therapy | What Patients Need to Know

Myeloma Maintenance Therapy | What Patients Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should myeloma patients know about maintenance therapy? Expert Dr. Benjamin Derman discusses the role of maintenance therapy, data presented at the 2022 American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting, and the role of minimal residual disease (MRD) testing in myeloma care.

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

When a patient goes into remission, they’re often placed on a maintenance therapy. What’s the role of maintenance therapy in myeloma care?  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. So, maintenance, just to specify, is typically something that we call a long duration of usually, less intensive therapy after a more intensive schedule of therapy. So, the most common area that we talk about maintenance is after, let’s say, an autologous stem cell transplant, which came after induction therapy that I mentioned.  

But for patients even who don’t go to a stem cell transplant, they can also go on maintenance therapy. So, when we think about the frontline setting, which in this case would be induction transplant maintenance, the most commonly used drug is a single agent lenalidomide (Revlimid). And that’s been shown to have survival benefits not just in keeping the disease away, but also helping patients live longer. So, maintenance therapy does seem to carry some real importance. One of the things though that we don’t know, is really how long patients need to be on maintenance therapy.  

So, we can all accept I think in the myeloma field, if there’s one thing we can agree on, is that maintenance is important. But the question is, what makes up that maintenance therapy? And then how long? Those are questions we don’t really have the best answers to. And actually, one of the areas that I do quite a bit of research in is about this, how long do patients need to be on therapy?  

So, we recently published some – we presented at ASH this year in 2022, some recent data, at least a preliminary data on patients who had really deep responses, and who we stopped their maintenance therapy after at least one year – but the average was about three-and-a-half years on maintenance therapy – to see if the disease would actually be at risk of coming back.  

And so, what we’re finding is that even in the first year, about 85 percent of patients did not have their disease come back after stopping therapy. So, maintenance therapy is certainly important, but I think we still have to figure out how long patients need to be on that therapy.  

Katherine:

Right. And I can imagine that each person, each patient is different, and some – the maintenance therapy would work really well for them for a long period of time. For others, not necessarily.  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. I mean, a lot of it comes down to the risk there of the patient’s myeloma. And what I mean by that is – so, somebody has explained to me previously, and I really like the analogy that myelomas are kind of like people. They have different personalities, and they give first impressions. And sometimes your first impression of a myeloma may end up being wrong. You thought it was going to be really hard to treat and you found out that it actually responded pretty nicely to therapy. And other times, it’s the other way around.  

But for the ones that give us a bad first impression, we’re going to be treating those patients typically more aggressively. At least that’s my personal approach. And I take that all the way through from induction, to transplant, even into maintenance therapy where I mentioned already, most people will prescribe a single drug as maintenance therapy. But for those patients, I’m typically going to be prescribing more than that. Or I will continue more aggressive therapy for longer. So, that’s where you have to sort of adapt your therapy in some cases to the patient and their disease characteristics.  

Katherine:

Related to maintenance therapy, we received this question before the program. How do doctors feel about maintenance breaks if you are MRD-negative? Or in a very good response?  

Dr. Derman:

So, I want to be very careful about how I respond to this. Because what I’m going to say is, there’s currently no data to tell us that patients should stop. I mean, in part that’s, you should stop therapy. In part that’s what I’m hoping that we can answer with our study. There’s another large cooperative group study trying to answer this as well, about the duration piece and whether people can stop.  

So, a very good partial response signifies at least a 90 percent reduction in the tumor, in the myeloma, but not 100 percent.  

And there’s also a complete response, which means there’s no detectable disease by conventional methods in the bone marrow or in the blood, but that there can still be microscopic or low levels of cancer cells which we call minimal residual or measurable residual disease. Also called MRD.  

So, MRD negativity is a not so nascent field now, where we are trying to quantify small amounts of cancer cells that may still be present. And the theory is that the presence of residual disease at a small measurable level is what’s ultimately responsible for myeloma relapsing.  

We used to think like, “Oh, a patient is in a complete response. That’s amazing. Let’s clink our champagne glasses. Let’s celebrate.” And there’s still cause for celebration for that. That is a great achievement. But we know that that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. If there is MRD-positive disease, then the disease, it can likely come back. And that’s where suppression of the disease with something like maintenance therapy with lenalidomide is probably helping a lot.  

Katherine:

Yeah. 

Dr. Derman:

But let’s say we have people who don’t have detectable disease, the question is, can they stop? And like I mentioned, we’re trying to answer that question. I would say right now, there’s no recommendation for that. I can’t say in good faith that you should be doing that, unless it’s as part of a clinical trial, which is what we’re hoping to answer.  

What Is Known About the Risk of Myeloma Relapse?

What Is Known About the Risk of Myeloma Relapse? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma relapse is common, but what is known about the the probability of relapse? Expert Dr. Benjamin Dermain explains the significance of clinical trial data and the important role of blood work, including monitoring M-spike and light chain levels.

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

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Transcript:

Katherine:  

Is research being done to determine the likelihood of relapse and when that might occur?   

Dr. Derman:  

Yeah. I mean, we can look at clinical trial data for regimens that have been tested in the relapsed or refractory setting and say, “Okay, we know that this three drug regimen typically gives patients a year before the disease comes back.” Or “This one gives two-and-a-half years or three years.” So, that’s one piece.  

But when you think about who – if you wanted to know ahead of time, “Okay, a patient with high-risk disease, they’re likely not to have as good of a response.” But nobody knows ahead of time the exact amount that they’re going to relapse.  

But one of the things that we focus on, part of the reason that patients get a good amount of blood work when they have myeloma and they’re on therapy is that we have a measure in the blood, or we have several measures in the blood, where we can monitor for relapse. So, we can look at the abnormal proteins, what we call paraproteins in the blood. Either as the M-spike, is what it’s called, or light chains. We look at both of those to see if there are increases in those numbers over time.

When a patient’s responding, those numbers come down. When a patient is losing response and their disease is progressing, that’s when we start to see those numbers go up. And that’s often an indication that we need to switch treatment, even before a patient develops symptoms related to their myeloma.   

What Are the Treatment Options for Relapsed/Refractory Myeloma?

What Are the Treatment Options for Relapsed/Refractory Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do relapsed/refractory myeloma patients need to consider when choosing a treatment approach? Expert Dr. Benjamin Derman explains the impact of previous therapies on options, various treatment classes available, and why combination treatments may be optimal.

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Unfortunately, relapse is common among myeloma patients. Or it may be that a treatment stops working, and so the person’s myeloma becomes refractory.   

When considering a treatment for relapsed or refractory myeloma, are there different questions that patients should be asking their healthcare team?  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. I mean, that’s a great question. I think part of it is every patient’s journey with myeloma ends up being quite unique, in part because we don’t have a lot of consensus in terms of how to treat myeloma. So, I may choose one regimen, but the other doc down the street is going to recommend a slightly different one. And now, they all have efficacy. No one’s going to be recommending something that’s not good, right? But what it means is that the journey, the number of therapies, the types of therapies that a patient has received are all going to be quite different than the next.  

So in part, sometimes the past therapies are going to dictate what options are available.  

So, I mentioned some different classes of therapies. The proteasome inhibitors, there’s a certain number of those. The immunomodulatory iMiDs, there’s a certain number of those. The CD38 monoclonal antibodies, there are those. And then there are a few other drug classes as well. 

And if we’re using three or sometimes four drugs at a time for each what we call line of therapy, meaning each time a patient changes treatment – right? Eventually, we’re going to have gone through a number of treatments that now the patient would be – their disease would be resistant to. And so, you don’t really – it’s not really going to be prudent or wise to go back to therapies that didn’t work previously.

And so, we start mixing and matching, and we come up with regimens that we think are going to hopefully throw a curveball to the myeloma to really try to get rid of it again. That’s what I mean by it’s dictated by past therapy.  

Key Questions to Ask Your Myeloma Doctor About Induction Therapy

Key Questions to Ask Your Myeloma Doctor About Induction Therapy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What key questions should you ask your myeloma care provider when choosing induction therapy? Expert Dr. Benjamin Derman discusses factors that are important for patients to consider when making treatment decisions along with their care team.

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s share some tips for having that conversation. I’d like to start with induction therapy, which is the first line of treatment for patients. What questions should patients ask when choosing therapy early in their diagnosis?

Dr. Derman:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s of course – it’s really the patient priorities I would say. So, one of the things that I like to discuss with patients is, number one, what are the things that they value? And that’s a hard question to ask without any qualifiers.

So, one of the things that I often ask patients to think about is the – first of all, the number of visits to the medical center. Certain therapies are weekly, certain therapies may actually decrease in frequency overtime. So, if that is something, it’s hard to travel, it’s hard to get someone to take you or to come yourself, or you just don’t want to be in the clinic as much – right? If that’s your number one priority, there are going to be certain therapies that are – or regimens that may be better suited for that patient. If somebody says, “I don’t care how many times I have to come, my goal is the deepest response possible,” you can think about things from that standpoint.

I mentioned side effects. What are the things that are scary to you personally, as a patient? Some people may look at that neuropathy, as I mentioned, and say “No way. That sounds horrible. I can’t do my job.” Other people would say, “I already have some cardiac issues. I don’t want to take that risk.” Right? So, there are different side effects that we have to take into account.

Especially when it comes to talking about transplant, there is not just the acute issues that we have to deal with in terms of side effects, but also long-term immunosuppression. Meaning the immune system is suppressed, and there’s a risk of infections, and it’s going to be higher than if you had not gotten a transplant. So, those are at least some of the things that I encourage patients to be thinking about.

I would also say, on top of that, patients may be approached about clinical trials. And I work at a university where we really value enrolling patients in clinical trials. But that they do come with some inconveniences as well, even though I think they really help to advance the field forward, and sometimes offer patients options they wouldn’t normally be able to get. But there are typically more visits associated with that, more evaluations, more blood draws, more bone marrow biopsies, so those are things that you really have to take into account.

What Factors Affect Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

What Factors Affect Myeloma Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma treatment decisions can vary by patient. Expert Dr. Benjamin Derman reviews factors that may guide induction therapy choices, treatment classes currently available, and strategies for managing common side effects.

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

There are a lot of available therapies for myeloma. And I’m wondering what factors might impact treatment decisions. You did mention comorbidities. But what other factors are there?   

Dr. Derman:

Sure. And I think in part, it depends on if we’re talking about induction therapy or in the relapsed refractory setting. Let’s focus on induction therapy, right?  

So, there are some drugs that we’re typically going to employ pretty much universally. For those who are inclined to use that CD38 monoclonal antibody that I mentioned, it pretty much plays well with patients of all walks of life. So, that’s one where I feel really comfortable regardless.  

Lenalidomide is a drug that we don’t necessarily know from the get-go if there’s going to be a patient that’s not going to tolerate it well.   

We might reduce doses up front. But for the most part, that’s another drug that we’re typically going to use. I would say the one exception is for patients who have a simultaneous diagnosis of amyloidosis. And we know that in amyloidosis, lenalidomide may not be as well-tolerated.  

But actually, one of the key decisions that I’m often making in clinic myself is around that drug class that I mentioned earlier called proteasome inhibitors. And I mentioned two different drugs. There’s bortezomib and carfilzomib. And they actually come with very different side effects that I think are important to mention.  

Bortezomib is one that is typically associated with a high rate of numbness and tingling, what we call neuropathy in the fingers and toes. And about 75 percent of patients have been reported in the trials to get this. And most of it is what we call lower grade. But I’m not in the patient’s body, and I don’t know what that – what even a grade 1, which would be the lowest grade, really feels like. And if I have a mechanic, somebody who types for a living, a surgeon, somebody who uses their hands or their or rely on their feet for their day-to-day, that’s a scary prospect, right?  

The flip side is this drug, carfilzomib (Kyprolis), is one that does not really cause nearly as much neuropathy, but has been associated with cardiac effects. Heart issues. And so, that can scare people, right? Heart’s important I hear. So, we have to be really careful in how we pick these therapies and talk about it with patients.   

What Are Current Myeloma Treatment Approaches?

What Are Current Myeloma Treatment Approaches? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should multiple myeloma patients know about current treatment approaches? Expert Dr. Benjamin Derman outlines available treatments, factors that influence options, and the role of combination therapy in myeloma care.

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What types of treatment are offered for myeloma patients?  

Dr. Derman:

Right. So, if you think about at the point where a patient is diagnosed with myeloma, unfortunately, always a tough – always tough news to receive and to share with patients as well, we start to think about dividing treatment into phases. And in part, some of it’s going to depend on, what is the fitness level of a patient in front of me? And not so much age per se, but really fitness level. And what I mean by that is independence in their activities of daily living, their ability to walk, go up flights of stairs, carry out just their daily life.  

So, assuming that all options are on the table, we consider those patients to sort of be what we call stem cell transplant eligible. 

And that picks a sort of variety of pathways that we can go down. And then the other variety of pathways we can go down are patients where either because of a comorbid conditions, there are other medical problems, or because of their fitness level, a stem cell transplant is not really going to be something that we consider.

But either way, in either case, we start with something called induction therapy, where we’re aiming to induce a remission. Or induce a response as we typically say more commonly in myeloma.  

And usually that involves a combination of three or now possibly four drugs. And it’s really, really different the way that we treat myeloma than we treat other cancers. And what I mean by that is the traditional thought of using very harsh chemotherapy drugs that make people feel very sick, very ill, lose their hair, those kinds of things. Things that are maybe more outwardly associated with chemotherapy, we don’t see that with myeloma.  

In fact, I often tell patients if they’re fortunate to not have the disease affect them so much at diagnosis, a lot of people may not even know that they’re on treatment. And that can be good and bad, because they don’t know that what you’re going through, which can be challenging in its own right.  

So, really what we use are a combination of therapies. They can be oral drugs, they can be subcutaneous injections under the skin, or infusions. And one of the newer advances is using immunotherapy in myeloma. And this is a little different than it is in solid organ cancers like lung cancer or melanoma where immunotherapy is very popular as well. 

One of the main targets that we go after is something called CD38 on the surface of myeloma cells. And CD38 can be targeted with a type of monoclonal antibody.  

And there are two that are out right now, daratumumab (Darzalex) and isatuximab (Sarclisa). Daratumumab is actually approved to be used in the frontline setting, meaning at diagnosis. And that has really allowed us to augment the already – the backbone that we’ve been already using for quite some time in myeloma.  

Dexamethasone (Decadron), which is a steroid, is typically employed in all of these cases. And then we use drugs that are in the class of what’s called immunomodulatory iMiDs, chiefly lenalidomide (Revlimid) is the main one that we use in oral drug, and that’s been approved since 2006 or so.  

And then bortezomib (Velcade), which is something called the proteasome inhibitor, or its cousin carfilzomib (Kyprolis), can be used as well in the frontline. So, we’re usually combining these three or four drugs together in order to create this sort of symphony that really targets the myeloma from many different aspects.  

Katherine:

Yeah. How do patients know if they have any of these targets, such as CD38?  

Dr. Derman:

So, actually it’s interesting. CD38 is pretty much ubiquitously exposed on the surface and expressed on the surface of myeloma cells. So, it’s in a pathology report. It’s actually one of the ways in which we can identify what makes a plasma cell a plasma cell. But CD38 is one that is essentially ubiquitously expressed.

And I say that with the idea that that expression may go down if you use these drugs to target that specific – that target. So, as time goes on, it’s not a drug that you may be able to reuse over and over. Or at least there might need to be a nice long break.  

What’s the Latest in Emerging Myeloma Research?

What’s the Latest in Emerging Myeloma Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Benjamin Derman shares research updates from the 2022 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting, including information about newly approved CAR T-cell therapies and a bispecific antibody therapy, as well as research on the new target, GPRC5D (G protein-coupled receptor 5D).

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Joining me is Dr. Benjamin Derman. Dr. Derman, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. As you said, my name is Ben Derman. I’m an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. And I specialize in actually, plasma cell disorders, which is mainly multiple myeloma, amyloidosis, Waldenstrom’s. If a plasma cell is the problem, then I address it. So, that’s what I do. And that’s my clinical and research focus as well.  

Katherine:

Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. Before we get into our discussion about available myeloma treatments, let’s talk about emerging therapies. And I know there are many. 

The American Society of Hematology or ASH annual meeting took place in December. What are some of the highlights from that meeting?  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah, ASH is always a very exciting time because it’s when we get to see all the latest and greatest of what’s on the way or what’s already here to stay.  

I think the biggest focus in the myeloma field, if I could really pin it down, was more in the later stages of the disease and focusing on treatments in that setting. We already have two FDA-approved chimeric antigen receptors, or CAR T-cell therapies, in Ide-cel (Abecma), and Cilta-cel (Carvykti). Those are the brand names. And then more recently, we just had a bispecific antibody, which is another type of immune therapy that was approved. But there are actually many under investigation.  

And so, at this ASH we heard a lot. Not only about the target that’s been most popular in this setting, which is something called BCMA or B-cell maturation antigen.  

That’s what the CAR T-cell therapies that I mentioned are going after and the teclistamab (Tecvayli) bispecific antibody that I mentioned.

But there are a lot of other candidate drugs that are also targeting that same molecule. So, we heard a little bit about – more about those. We’ve been hearing about them pretty much at every conference these days.  

So, there’s a lot of competition in that space. Which is good for patients because ultimately, what we’re trying to figure out is, is one of these better than the others? Or at least, if we have multiple options, there may be different side effect profiles that we have to think about.

But now as BCMA therapies are getting used more and more, one of the questions is, well, is there any other target that we could go after? And really, the one that was hot at ASH this year was something called GPRC5D, or G-protein coupled receptor 5D. This is expressed pretty strongly in myeloma cells, and not in many other tissues. Maybe the skin, nails, tongue. So, basically, that’s what you want, is you want a target that’s not going to be expressed elsewhere.

So, there were a couple of different types of therapies that were discussed. One was a CAR T-cell therapy going after GPRC5D, and the others were – there were two bispecific antibodies actually targeting the same GPRC5D. And that’s actually already in addition to another GPRC5D-directed bispecific that’s in development.

So, basically, the idea is that if patients may experience progression on one of these BCMA targeting agents, we’re going to have another target to be going after. And I think that part is really, really exciting.

And as far as other highlights, I think the other thing is, how do we reduce the toxicity from these drugs? And exploring avenues in order to be able to decrease sort of the inflammatory effects of these drugs, which are important.   

How Can You Engage in Your Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

How Can You Engage in Your Myeloma Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Benjamin Derman shares advice for partnering with your team when choosing a myeloma therapy, discusses important factors that should be considered, and provides key questions to ask your healthcare team to help you engage in your care. Dr. Derman also reviews research updates from the December 2022 American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting.

Dr. Benjamin Derman is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Derman.

Download Resource Guide

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to talk about myeloma treatments, what the options are both current and emerging, and how you can play a role in your care and treatment decisions.  

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 our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Benjamin Derman. Dr. Derman, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. As you said, my name is Ben Derman. I’m an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. And I specialize in actually, plasma cell disorders, which is mainly multiple myeloma, amyloidosis, Waldenstrom’s. If a plasma cell is the problem, then I address it. So, that’s what I do. And that’s my clinical and research focus as well.  

Katherine:

Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. Before we get into our discussion about available myeloma treatments, let’s talk about emerging therapies. And I know there are many. 

The American Society of Hematology or ASH annual meeting took place in December. What are some of the highlights from that meeting?  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah, ASH is always a very exciting time because it’s when we get to see all the latest and greatest of what’s on the way or what’s already here to stay.  

I think the biggest focus in the myeloma field, if I could really pin it down, was more in the later stages of the disease and focusing on treatments in that setting. We already have two FDA-approved chimeric antigen receptors, or CAR T-cell therapies, in Ide-cel (Abecma), and Cilta-cel (Carvykti). Those are the brand names. And then more recently, we just had a bispecific antibody, which is another type of immune therapy that was approved. But there are actually many under investigation.  

And so, at this ASH we heard a lot. Not only about the target that’s been most popular in this setting, which is something called BCMA or B-cell maturation antigen.  

That’s what the CAR T-cell therapies that I mentioned are going after and the teclistamab (Tecvayli) bispecific antibody that I mentioned.  

But there are a lot of other candidate drugs that are also targeting that same molecule. So, we heard a little bit about – more about those. We’ve been hearing about them pretty much at every conference these days.  

So, there’s a lot of competition in that space. Which is good for patients because ultimately, what we’re trying to figure out is, is one of these better than the others? Or at least, if we have multiple options, there may be different side effect profiles that we have to think about.  

But now as BCMA therapies are getting used more and more, one of the questions is, well, is there any other target that we could go after? And really, the one that was hot at ASH this year was something called GPRC5D, or G-protein coupled receptor 5D. This is expressed pretty strongly in myeloma cells, and not in many other tissues. Maybe the skin, nails, tongue. So, basically, that’s what you want, is you want a target that’s not going to be expressed elsewhere.  

So, there were a couple of different types of therapies that were discussed. One was a CAR T-cell therapy going after GPRC5D, and the others were – there were two bispecific antibodies actually targeting the same GPRC5D. And that’s actually already in addition to another GPRC5D directed bispecific that’s in development.  

So, basically, the idea is that if patients may experience progression on one of these BCMA targeting agents, we’re going to have another target to be going after. And I think that part is really, really exciting.  

And as far as other highlights, I think the other thing is, how do we reduce the toxicity from these drugs? And exploring avenues in order to be able to decrease sort of the inflammatory effects of these drugs, which are important.  

Katherine:

That’s great. It sounds so promising. And all of that information is going to be very helpful as we move through today’s discussion.  

Let’s start with a general overview of treatment options. What types of treatment are offered for myeloma patients?  

Dr. Derman:

Right. So, if you think about at the point where a patient is diagnosed with myeloma, unfortunately, always a tough – always tough news to receive and to share with patients as well, we start to think about dividing treatment into phases. And in part, some of it’s going to depend on, what is the fitness level of a patient in front of me? And not so much age per se, but really fitness level. And what I mean by that is independence in their activities of daily living, their ability to walk, go up flights of stairs, carry out just their daily life.  

So, assuming that all options are on the table, we consider those patients to sort of be what we call stem cell transplant-eligible. 

And that picks a sort of variety of pathways that we can go down. And then the other variety of pathways we can go down are patients where either because of a comorbid conditions, there are other medical problems, or because of their fitness level, a stem cell transplant is not really going to be something that we consider.  

But either way, in either case, we start with something called induction therapy, where we’re aiming to induce a remission. Or induce a response as we typically say more commonly in myeloma.  

And usually that involves a combination of three or now possibly four drugs. And it’s really, really different the way that we treat myeloma than we treat other cancers. And what I mean by that is the traditional thought of using very harsh chemotherapy drugs that make people feel very sick, very ill, lose their hair, those kinds of things. Things that are maybe more outwardly associated with chemotherapy, we don’t see that with myeloma.  

In fact, I often tell patients if they’re fortunate to not have the disease affect them so much at diagnosis, a lot of people may not even know that they’re on treatment. And that can be good and bad, because they don’t know that what you’re going through, which can be challenging in its own right.  

So, really what we use are a combination of therapies. They can be oral drugs, they can be subcutaneous injections under the skin, or infusions. And one of the newer advances is using immunotherapy in myeloma. And this is a little different than it is in solid organ cancers like lung cancer or melanoma where immunotherapy is very popular as well.  

One of the main targets that we go after is something called CD38 on the surface of myeloma cells. And CD38 can be targeted with a type of monoclonal antibody.  

And there are two that are out right now, daratumumab (Darzalex) and isatuximab (Sarclisa). Daratumumab is actually approved to be used in the frontline setting, meaning at diagnosis. And that has really allowed us to augment the already – the backbone that we’ve been already using for quite some time in myeloma.  

Dexamethasone (Decadron), which is a steroid, is typically employed in all of these cases. And then we use drugs that are in the class of what’s called immunomodulatory iMiDs, chiefly lenalidomide (Revlimid) is the main one that we use in oral drug, and that’s been approved since 2006 or so.  

And then bortezomib (Velcade), which is something called the proteasome inhibitor, or its cousin carfilzomib (Kyprolis), can be used as well in the frontline. So, we’re usually combining these three or four drugs together in order to create this sort of symphony that really targets the myeloma from many different aspects.  

Katherine:

Yeah. How do patients know if they have any of these targets, such as CD38?  

Dr. Derman:

So, actually it’s interesting. CD38 is pretty much ubiquitously exposed on the surface and expressed on the surface of myeloma cells. So, it’s in a pathology report. It’s actually one of the ways in which we can identify what makes a plasma cell a plasma cell. But CD38 is one that is essentially ubiquitously expressed.  

And I say that with the idea that that expression may go down if you use these drugs to target that specific – that target. So, as time goes on, it’s not a drug that you may be able to reuse over and over. Or at least there might need to be a nice long break.  

Katherine:

So, obviously there are very – there are a lot of available therapies for myeloma. And I’m wondering what factors might impact treatment decisions. You did mention comorbidities. But what other factors are there?  

Dr. Derman:

Sure. And I think in part, it depends on if we’re talking about induction therapy or in the relapsed refractory setting. Let’s focus on induction therapy, right?  

So, there are some drugs that we’re typically going to employ pretty much universally. For those who are inclined to use that CD38 monoclonal antibody that I mentioned, it pretty much plays well with patients of all walks of life. So, that’s one where I feel really comfortable regardless.  

Lenalidomide is a drug that we don’t necessarily know from the get-go if there’s going to be a patient that’s not going to tolerate it well.  

We might reduce doses up front. But for the most part, that’s another drug that we’re typically going to use. I would say the one exception is for patients who have a simultaneous diagnosis of amyloidosis. And we know that in amyloidosis, lenalidomide may not be as well-tolerated.  

But actually, one of the key decisions that I’m often making in clinic myself is around that drug class that I mentioned earlier called proteasome inhibitors. And I mentioned two different drugs. There’s bortezomib and carfilzomib. And they actually come with very different side effects that I think are important to mention.  

Bortezomib is one that is typically associated with a high rate of numbness and tingling, what we call neuropathy in the fingers and toes. And about 75 percent of patients have been reported in the trials to get this. And most of it is what we call lower grade. But I’m not in the patient’s body, and I don’t know what that – what even a grade 1, which would be the lowest grade, really feels like. And if I have a mechanic, somebody who types for a living, a surgeon, somebody who uses their hands or their or rely on their feet for their day-to-day, that’s a scary prospect, right?  

The flip side is this drug, carfilzomib, is one that does not really cause nearly as much neuropathy, but has been associated with cardiac effects. Heart issues. And so, that can scare people, right? Heart’s important I hear. So, we have to be really careful in how we pick these therapies and talk about it with patients.  

Katherine:

Yeah. When we talk about making treatment decisions, it’s important to choose a therapy with your healthcare team.  

Let’s share some tips for having that conversation. I’d like to start with induction therapy, which is the first line of treatment for patients. What questions should patients ask when choosing therapy early in their diagnosis?   

Dr. Derman:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s of course – it’s really the patient priorities I would say. So, one of the things that I like to discuss with patients is, number one, what are the things that they value? And that’s a hard question to ask without any qualifiers.  

So, one of the things that I often ask patients to think about is the – first of all, the number of visits to the medical center. Certain therapies are weekly, certain therapies may actually decrease in frequency overtime. So, if that is something, it’s hard to travel, it’s hard to get someone to take you or to come yourself, or you just don’t want to be in the clinic as much – right? If that’s your number one priority, there are going to be certain therapies that are – or regimens that may be better suited for that patient. If somebody says, “I don’t care how many times I have to come, my goal is the deepest response possible,” you can think about things from that standpoint.  

I mentioned side effects. What are the things that are scary to you personally, as a patient? Some people may look at that neuropathy, as I mentioned, and say “No way. That sounds horrible. I can’t do my job.” Other people would say, “I already have some cardiac issues. I don’t want to take that risk.” Right? So, there are different side effects that we have to take into account.  

Especially when it comes to talking about transplant, there is not just the acute issues that we have to deal with in terms of side effects, but also long-term immunosuppression. Meaning the immune system is suppressed, and there’s a risk of infections, and it’s going to be higher than if you had not gotten a transplant. So, those are at least some of the things that I encourage patients to be thinking about.  

I would also say, on top of that, patients may be approached about clinical trials. And I work at a university where we really value enrolling patients in clinical trials. But that they do come with some inconveniences as well, even though I think they really help to advance the field forward, and sometimes offer patients options they wouldn’t normally be able to get. But there are typically more visits associated with that, more evaluations, more blood draws, more bone marrow biopsies, so those are things that you really have to take into account.  

Katherine:

That’s great advice, Dr. Derman. Unfortunately, relapse is common among myeloma patients. Or it may be that a treatment stops working, and so the person’s myeloma becomes refractory.   

When considering a treatment for relapsed or refractory myeloma, are there different questions that patients should be asking their healthcare team?  

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. I mean, that’s a great question. I think part of it is every patient’s journey with myeloma ends up being quite unique, in part because we don’t have a lot of consensus in terms of how to treat myeloma. So, I may choose one regimen, but the other doc down the street is going to recommend a slightly different one. And now, they all have efficacy. No one’s going to be recommending something that’s not good, right? But what it means is that the journey, the number of therapies, the types of therapies that a patient has received are all going to be quite different than the next.  

So in part, sometimes the past therapies are going to dictate what options are available.  

So, I mentioned some different classes of therapies. The proteasome inhibitors, there’s a certain number of those. The immunomodulatory iMiDs, there’s a certain number of those. The CD38 monoclonal antibodies, there are those. And then there are a few other drug classes as well.   

And if we’re using three or sometimes four drugs at a time for each what we call line of therapy, meaning each time a patient changes treatment – right? Eventually, we’re going to have gone through a number of treatments that now the patient would be – their disease would be resistant to. And so, you don’t really – it’s not really going to be prudent or wise to go back to therapies that didn’t work previously.  

And so, we start mixing and matching, and we come up with regimens that we think are going to hopefully throw a curveball to the myeloma to really try to get rid of it again. That’s what I mean by it’s dictated by past therapy.  

Katherine:

Is research being done to determine the likelihood of relapse and when that might occur?   

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. I mean, we can look at clinical trial data for regimens that have been tested in the relapsed or refractory setting and say, “Okay, we know that this three drug regimen typically gives patients a year before the disease comes back.” Or “This one gives two-and-a-half years or three years.” So, that’s one piece.  

But when you think about who – if you wanted to know ahead of time, “Okay, a patient with high-risk disease, they’re likely not to have as good of a response.” But nobody knows ahead of time the exact amount that they’re going to relapse.  

But one of the things that we focus on, part of the reason that patients get a good amount of blood work when they have myeloma and they’re on therapy is that we have a measure in the blood, or we have several measures in the blood, where we can monitor for relapse. So, we can look at the abnormal proteins, what we call paraproteins in the blood. Either as the M-spike, is what it’s called, or light chains. We look at both of those to see if there are increases in those numbers over time.  

When a patient’s responding, those numbers come down. When a patient is losing response and their disease is progressing, that’s when we start to see those numbers go up. And that’s often an indication that we need to switch treatment, even before a patient develops symptoms related to their myeloma.  

Katherine:

When a patient goes into remission, they’re often placed on a maintenance therapy. What’s the role of maintenance therapy in myeloma care?   

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. So, maintenance, just to specify, is typically something that we call a long duration of usually, less intensive therapy after a more intensive schedule of therapy. So, the most common area that we talk about maintenance is after, let’s say, an autologous stem cell transplant, which came after induction therapy that I mentioned.  

But for patients even who don’t go to a stem cell transplant, they can also go on maintenance therapy. So, when we think about the frontline setting, which in this case would be induction transplant maintenance, the most commonly used drug is a single agent lenalidomide. And that’s been shown to have survival benefits not just in keeping the disease away, but also helping patients live longer. So, maintenance therapy does seem to carry some real importance. One of the things though that we don’t know, is really how long patients need to be on maintenance therapy.  

So, we can all accept I think in the myeloma field, if there’s one thing we can agree on, is that maintenance is important. But the question is, what makes up that maintenance therapy? And then how long? Those are questions we don’t really have the best answers to. And actually, one of the areas that I do quite a bit of research in is about this, how long do patients need to be on therapy?  

So, we recently published some – we presented at ASH this year in 2022, some recent data, at least a preliminary data on patients who had really deep responses, and who we stopped their maintenance therapy after at least one year – but the average was about three-and-a-half years on maintenance therapy – to see if the disease would actually be at risk of coming back.  

And so, what we’re finding is that even in the first year, about 85 percent of patients did not have their disease come back after stopping therapy. So, maintenance therapy is certainly important, but I think we still have to figure out how long patients need to be on that therapy.  

Katherine:

Right. And I can imagine that each person, each patient is different, and some – the maintenance therapy would work really well for them for a long period of time. For others, not necessarily.   

Dr. Derman:

Yeah. I mean, a lot of it comes down to the risk there of the patient’s myeloma. And what I mean by that is – so, somebody has explained to me previously, and I really like the analogy that myelomas are kind of like people. They have different personalities, and they give first impressions. And sometimes your first impression of a myeloma may end up being wrong. You thought it was going to be really hard to treat and you found out that it actually responded pretty nicely to therapy. And other times, it’s the other way around.  

But for the ones that give us a bad first impression, we’re going to be treating those patients typically more aggressively. At least that’s my personal approach. And I take that all the way through from induction, to transplant, even into maintenance therapy where I mentioned already, most people will prescribe a single drug as maintenance therapy. But for those patients, I’m typically going to be prescribing more than that. Or I will continue more aggressive therapy for longer. So, that’s where you have to sort of adapt your therapy in some cases to the patient and their disease characteristics.  

Katherine:

Related to maintenance therapy, we received this question before the program. How do doctors feel about maintenance breaks if you are MRD-negative? Or in a very good response?   

Dr. Derman:

So, I want to be very careful about how I respond to this. Because what I’m going to say is, there’s currently no data to tell us that patients should stop. I mean, in part that’s, you should stop therapy. In part that’s what I’m hoping that we can answer with our study. There’s another large cooperative group study trying to answer this as well, about the duration piece and whether people can stop.  

So, a very good partial response signifies at least a 90 percent reduction in the tumor, in the myeloma, but not 100 percent.  

And there’s also a complete response, which means there’s no detectable disease by conventional methods in the bone marrow or in the blood, but that there can still be microscopic or low levels of cancer cells which we call minimal residual or measurable residual disease. Also called MRD.  

So, MRD negativity is a not so nascent field now, where we are trying to quantify small amounts of cancer cells that may still be present. And the theory is that the presence of residual disease at a small measurable level is what’s ultimately responsible for myeloma relapsing.  

We used to think like, “Oh, a patient is in a complete response. That’s amazing. Let’s clink our champagne glasses. Let’s celebrate.” And there’s still cause for celebration for that. That is a great achievement. But we know that that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. If there is MRD-positive disease, then the disease, it can likely come back. And that’s where suppression of the disease with something like maintenance therapy with lenalidomide is probably helping a lot.  

Katherine:

Yeah. 

Dr. Derman:

But let’s say we have people who don’t have detectable disease, the question is, can they stop? And like I mentioned, we’re trying to answer that question. I would say right now, there’s no recommendation for that. I can’t say in good faith that you should be doing that, unless it’s as part of a clinical trial, which is what we’re hoping to answer. 

Katherine:

Let’s get to a few audience questions, Dr. Derman.   

Craig sent in this question prior to the program. “My primary side effect is fatigue.” And you just mentioned that. “What advice do you have for planning activities through the day?”  

Dr. Derman:

So, this is a very common side effect that we see. In part, it can be from the disease itself. And if that’s the case, it’s going to get better as treatment works. In other cases, it’s due to the treatment itself. And sometimes there are controllable aspects. If it’s a pill, let’s say, where you can control the timing of when you take it. I often tell patients, “Take the drug at night. Because if it makes you tired, at least you’re going to be going to sleep at that point.”  

I do think making sure that you have a good night’s sleep is important. I think making sure that you keep your day-night cycles. So, even if you feel fatigued and you’re at home, it’s not good to be having the windows closed and not being exposed to the outdoors at all. You need light during the day. That’s a normal human need. We do the same thing when patients are in the hospital, and it’s very easy to get your day and night cycles messed up.  

And the other thing too is planning periods of the day when you know that your activity level is going to be, or your energy level is going to be higher, and planning your activities around those times. I think those are at least some important things that we can do.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Lauren wants to know, what is the best way to measure current immunity status? And should we mix COVID vaccine and flu vaccine?  

Dr. Derman:

Mm-hmm. This has become sort of a hot button issue all of the sudden over the last few years. Well, so, as far as immunity status, I wish there was a one good test that we could know.  

I mean, there are some features. Patients who have low white blood cell counts, especially low neutrophil counts, are certainly going to be at higher risk for infection. And that can happen due to myeloma, or more commonly, due to therapies. We can look at immunoglobulin levels, especially the IgG level. Patients who have IgG levels typically less than 400 milligram per deciliter seem to be historically at higher risks of infections. So, something called IVIG, which is an infusion of donated antibodies from plasma from healthy donors, can be used for that.  

There’s been a lot of discussion about, how do we know immune status related to COVID? And there are antibody levels that can be checked, but the truth is nowadays most people have high antibody levels, even if they’re on therapies because of the number of vaccines they received or natural infection. And it may not be a really good surrogate for understanding immunity to COVID. COVID’s outsmarted us time and time again, and probably will continue to do so.  

As far as the vac – I mean vaccines are super important. We do this for all our patients after transplant as well, revaccination them for all of their childhood vaccines. As far as the COVID and flu, I personally – I’m happy and feel fine administering both at the same time. We’ve seen no real safety signals there in my anecdotal experience. But I’m perfectly fine if patients want to split them up. It’s not something that is a 10 out of 10 for me. It’s more that it is as long as they’re getting both, I think that’s really important.  

Katherine:

Yeah. One final question for you. Jennifer asks, “Many new medications for treatment were mentioned. And I’m sure these could be expensive. What are the options to make these available financially for patients who need them?”  

Dr. Derman:

That’s a really good question, and one that we don’t yet have great answers to. As a physician, I don’t receive compensation based on the drugs that I prescribe. And so, I do know – I often have a good sense of what these drugs cost. A lot of the costs that are passed along to patients typically revolve around oral therapies. Even patients who are on Medicare, or sometimes especially patients who are on Medicare. And looking at some of the policy changes that seem to be coming down the pike that include capping Medicare out of pocket costs for medications will be a huge benefit to our myeloma patients.  

It’s important to familiarize yourself with different organizations and the financial support that may be available. Just to name a few, and you’re not limited to these, but The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society does a really great job in providing financial support to patients. But there are definitely other programs that can be contacted for this.  

And also, a lot of the pharmaceutical companies will actually have patient assistance programs as well. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking your provider, and typically they will have their team look into this for you. But we’re fortunate to have a team of pharmacists and my nurses as well who are used to doing this kind of thing. So, it’s important to look into those as well.  

Katherine:

Right. And so, there are lots of resources out there, it’s just asking your healthcare team what they are. Right.  

So, these were all really great questions, and we ask our audience to continue sending in questions to question@powerfulpatients.org. And we’ll work to get them answered on future programs.  

Dr. Derman, what advice do you have for patients? What would you like to leave the audience with?  

Dr Derman:

You know, myeloma is a funny – it’s a funny disease in the sense that patients who were diagnosed 10 years ago, who I still see, they remind me of the action movie where the building is maybe blowing up in the background, blurred out, and they’re running out of the building just in time. And that is because the pace of progress is fast enough in myeloma that we have all these new therapies coming down.  

So, really, I think maintaining hope and thinking about – don’t worry so much about what’s going to happen next. Figure out what you’re going to do now, and make sure that you’re living your best life now, and making sure that you’re doing what you can to treat your disease, I think, and help you feel good during that period too.  

Katherine:

Yeah.  

Dr. Derman:

So, I think it’s a message of hope mainly, that I feel really good about the future of myeloma. There’s a lot of innovation in this space that you can feel good about.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Dr. Derman, thank you so much for joining us today. It was a pleasure talking to you.  

Dr. Derman:

Likewise. Thanks so much.  

Katherine:

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 for joining us.  

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing Myeloma Care?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing Myeloma Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan discusses how CAR T-cell therapy works to treat myeloma, the currently approved CAR T-cell therapies, and the outcomes related to progression free survival (PFS) for patients with heavily pre-treated myeloma.

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.

See More from Innovative Myeloma Therapies

Related Resources:

Immunotherapy: Which Myeloma Patients Is It Right For?

Immunotherapy: Which Patients Is It Right For?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?

What Are the Risks of CAR T-Cell Therapy?

Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s talk about CAR T-cell therapy. How is CAR T-cell therapy changing the field?  

Dr. Khan:

Myeloma was a little late to the CAR-T game, but we’re very happy it’s here. The two products approved in myeloma are idecabtagene vicleucel, ide-cel for short, and ciltacabtagene autoleucel, or cilta-cel for short. 

So, the way CAR Ts work, they are customized T cells for each individual patient. You collect the T cell from the patient with myeloma. You reengineer them in the laboratory to produce proteins on their surface called chimeric antigen receptor. That’s CAR portion of the CAR T therapy. And these CARs recognize and bind specific proteins on the surface of multiple myeloma.  

So, these genetically modified T cells are then expanded or multiplied to make millions of cells. They’re sent back to the hospital where they were collected, where the patient is. And they’re infused back into the patient. The hope is that these modified cells, these CAR T cells, will continue to multiply in the patient. And with guidance from that engineered receptor, they will recognize and kill multiple myeloma very effectively. 

So, I can provide some numbers to the outcomes of the two approved CAR T cells – CAR T products in multiple myeloma. The first approved was ide-cel in patients with a median of six prior lines of therapy, a single dose of CAR T was able to produce an objective response rate – that’s how many people responded to the treatment – of 73 percent, and the median, the middle person, progressed after 8.8 months of getting this treatment. The other product, cilta-cel, was also studied in patients with a median of six prior lines of therapy, and the objective response rate was an astounding 98 percent.  

Katherine:

Wow.  

Dr. Khan:

And the median progression-free survival is actually not yet reached. So, these are remarkable results with heavily pre-treated myeloma. And the myeloma community’s very excited to actually bring these treatments to earlier lines of therapy such as a newly diagnosed patient with multiple myeloma. 

Making Myeloma Treatment Decisions at Every Stage of Care

Making Myeloma Treatment Decisions at Every Stage of Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Mark Schroeder, of Siteman Cancer Center, reviews the types of treatment approaches available for patients with myeloma, discusses how therapies are chosen and why, including in the relapsed and refractory setting. Dr. Schroeder also shares an update on new and emerging myeloma therapies.

Dr. Mark Schroeder is a hematologist at Siteman Cancer Center of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Schroeder serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Schroeder, here.

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

Download Resource Guide

 

Related Resources:

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

How Is a Myeloma Patient in Active Treatment Monitored?

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. Today’s program is about how to actively engage in myeloma treatment decisions at every stage of your care. 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 our guest today. Joining us is Dr. Mark Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah. Hi, Katherine. Thanks for having me. I’m Dr. Mark Schroeder. I’m an Associate Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to join us. As I mentioned, this webinar is about actively engaging in myeloma care decisions. So, I’d like to start with this important question, why is it essential for patients to play a role in their care and treatment decisions? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, I mean patients are – a patient should be actively involved in decisions with their doctor. As a physician, doctors are thinking about “What is the best treatment for their disease or their cancer?” and patients, I think, have a role in trying to guide the doctor in terms of what outcomes they are seeking from treatment, what is there lifestyle like that we could potentially guide treatment around. Patients have different goals. Sometimes in cancer, we’re going for curative therapies. Sometimes we’re not, and quality of life is more important. Having an actively engaged patient ensures that your doctor is trying to tailor treatment to you.  

The patient who is educated also helps to bring resources to their physician about – sometimes physicians may not know of all the clinical trials that are ongoing or potentially even therapies. But have a patient ask about certain studies or ask about certain therapies, it helps to open a conversation with your physician to discuss those and to kind of talk through why it may or may not be a good idea for them in particular. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, thank you. That helps guide us as we begin our conversation. As a patient, engaging in your care starts with understanding your diagnosis, so I’d like to go through some definitions. What is multiple myeloma? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer. It’s a cancer in particular of a blood cell called a plasma cell. Everybody has normal plasma cells in their body. It’s part of your immune system that responds to infections; they are also cells that respond to vaccinations.  

And when a plasma cell becomes a cancer, it often forms a cancer called multiple myeloma. And that cancer results often times in damage to bones, low blood counts or anemia, potentially kidney problems, or possibly seeing high levels of calcium.  

Katherine Banwell:

What about smoldering myeloma? What is that? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, smoldering myeloma is a stage that happens prior to the development of myeloma that is causing organ damage. I talked about the damage to bones, kidneys, blood cells – that is called the CRAB criteria. The C stands for calcium, the R renal, A anemia, and B bones. We define myeloma by having damage to one of those four essential systems.  

Smoldering myeloma can happen when we actually see plasma cells that look like myeloma – that look like cancer cells, but they’re not causing the CRAB features of multiple myeloma. And there is a chance that sometimes that smoldering form of myeloma, it’s not causing any damage, but it can evolve and change into myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

What is MGUS?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

MGUS is a stage that happens prior to smoldering myeloma. We know that MGUS which stands for monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance – it’s a mouthful. That’s why we like to say MGUS.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

But it’s a protein that can be detected in your blood. Sometimes that protein does not mean you have a cancer. We can detect proteins like that in blood in patients who have, say, autoimmune diseases, and they’re at low levels. It’s just an immune response; it’s produced by those plasma cells that can be cancerous, but sometimes plasma cells grow because they’re stimulated – they’re overstimulated.  

And so, that monoclonal protein of MGUS can be detected in the blood, but we don’t see an increase in the number of cells in the bones that are classic for myeloma. But we know that about 1 percent of patients who have MGUS, every year, 1 percent might progress on to develop multiply myeloma. So, it’s a risk factor; it’s on the spectrum of disease from MGUS to smoldering myeloma to myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And how is asymptomatic myeloma monitored?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, asymptomatic patients, I would consider those are the patients who have smoldering myeloma, so they don’t have the high calcium, the renal issues, anemia, or bone problems. And typically, those patients are followed up about every three to six months, depending on where they fit in kind of that spectrum of MGUS to smoldering myeloma to myeloma.  

Sometimes patients who have clinically identified myeloma and it presents very heterogeneous sometimes. They may not have a lot of organ involvement or organ damage, and maybe they’re frail, they’re elderly. And it may be appropriate also to observe patients who actually have some of the findings of myeloma, but the disease doesn’t seem to be as aggressive. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Let’s talk about the different phases of therapy for myeloma, and I’m going to ask you for some more definitions. What is induction therapy? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Induction therapy is the first treatment that we’re starting for myeloma. It’s oftentimes a combination of a number of chemotherapies that our goal is to get control of the cancer quickly, so reduce the burden of the cancer in a patient’s body.   

Oftentimes, when patients present with myeloma, that’s when the burden of cancer is the highest. So, induction therapy is a combination often of three or four different drugs given over the course of about three to four months to treat the myeloma and get initial control.  

Katherine Banwell:

What about consolidation therapy? What is that?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, after you have had a response to induction therapy, your oncologist might talk about, “Well, let’s deepen that response.” That’s when we think about consolidation. So, it’s going to be poten – most of the time is a change of therapy from the three or four drugs that you were treated for in the myeloma. An example of consolidation would be going through a stem cell transplant or more chemotherapy after stem cell transplant. So, that’s a change in therapy, and it ends up deepening the response, killing more of the cancer. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what about maintenance therapy?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, after you have gone through induction, you have control of the myeloma, we’ve deepened that response with consolidation, we know that myeloma is a cancer that tends to come back. And we know from experience that continuing some of the drugs that we used in induction at low doses are effective to try and prevent it from progressing or coming back, and it extends that period of time – and that’s maintenance therapy. It’s using some of the drugs we used to initially treat myeloma at lower doses to continue to suppress low levels of the cancer. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for that. There are a number of treatments for myeloma patients. Can you talk about the types that are available? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah. So, the classes of – actually there is lots of drugs approved for treating myeloma but also recently approved.  

And we classify them into big categories. One of the categories is called immunomodulatory drugs – those are drugs like Revlimid and pomalidomide, or even thalidomide which was one of the first immunomodulatory drugs. Those are oral drugs that work on a specific pathway in the myeloma that leads to the myeloma cell dying. Another class of drugs are called proteasome inhibitors. Those include drugs like bortezomib or carfilzomib. Those drugs are often given under the skin or in the vein, and we know that they work really effectively on their own, but also when we combine them with an immunomodulatory drug like Revlimid or pomalidomide, the effect is even better. Another class is steroids. Steroids are kind of one of the first drugs used to treat this cancer, and steroids are effective at treating myeloma cells.   

Plasma cells are responsive to steroids. One of the first treatment regimens used to treat myeloma were traditional chemotherapies, and those are usually reserved for later on. You might think of traditional chemotherapy that causes hair loss, nausea, vomiting, low blood counts. Those, decades ago, were used to treat myeloma, but now we have effective oral, IV, or injection into the skin that don’t cause a lot of the traditional chemotherapy side effects but are very effective at treating the myeloma. And then another major class of drugs are considered immunotherapies. So, these are treatments that are engineered to either stimulate the immune system to go attack the myeloma, or maybe it’s even using part of your own immune system to engineer it to go attack the myeloma. 

Examples of those are called bispecific antibodies which kind of binds to the myeloma but binds to an immune cell, brings them together, or a CAR-T cell which takes your own T cells genetically modifies them to attack the cancer. 

Katherine Banwell:

And there is also a bone marrow transplant. Is that right? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

That’s right, yeah. I neglected – so, bone marrow transplant has been around for a while in myeloma. And despite it being around for so long and really good therapies being approved for myeloma, it’s still a standard treatment for myeloma. And bone marrow transplant in myeloma uses a traditional chemotherapy called melphalan that is associated with the chemotherapy side effects we talked about. But the advantage of bone marrow transplant is that it prolongs the time before the myeloma comes back and needs other treatments, and that’s why we do it. It can be toxic, but it can prolong the time before a patient needs another line of therapy.  

Katherine Banwell:

We know that everyone’s diagnosis is different. So, how do you determine a treatment plan for an individual patient? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, it depends in terms of the patient – initially, I will evaluate patients and determine how fit they are. Is it a patient that I think is strong enough to undergo a stem cell transplant? Is that going to be a benefit to them? That’s not necessarily a factor of just age, but it’s also, are they doing well functionally, or do they have any other medical problems like heart disease or kidney problems? Those things play into my decision on a treatment initially with patients. So, whether you’re fit or unfit will help to guide what your treatment is going to be in general. Fit patients are somebody that could undergo multiple treatments, go through a transplant, have minimal toxicity, and recover fully after more intensive treatments.  

Whereas, unfit may need more assistance, and we tend to reduce the intensity of treatments. It doesn’t mean the treatments, if you’re unfit, are less effective – they can be very effective. But our goals for treatment change in that situation. And we’re looking for responses but also looking for quality of life. And then it changes also depending on the genetics of the myeloma. Our treatment for patients who have genetic changes that are high risk will change compared to those that have what are called standard risk genetic changes.  

So, that is an important point to discuss with your oncologist if you have – Do I have standard risk or high-risk genetic changes in my cancer? And does that effect my treatment? And then also, treatment in somebody who is being treated a second time or third time or beyond for their myeloma depends on what treatments you had before and how effective they were.  

And what were your toxicities or side effects from those treatments? So, all those factors play into a decision of treatment for an individual.  

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great information. Let’s discuss what happens after treatment. How is the effectiveness of a treatment monitored? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

When you are initially diagnosed with myeloma, we will perform testing of blood. We look for that monoclonal protein or protein in the blood that is produced by the cancer cells. That protein level will be used to monitor the response of the cancer, and that’s a blood test – that’s called a serum protein electrophoresis. Also, initially, we’ll have x-rays of the bones, or it might be a CT scan or an MRI or PET scan that’s used to document if there is any bone damage. And oftentimes when we’re following up, we follow the bloodwork to look for reduction in that protein level.  

We may follow up additional x-rays to see if there are new areas in the bones that are damaged or if prior areas have responded to the treatment. And then oftentimes a bone marrow biopsy is used to document if you are in a complete remission which means that the protein we detected before or the cancer cells in the bone marrow cannot be detected after treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it essential for patients to share any symptoms or issues they may be having with their healthcare team during and after treatment? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, I mean, the treatments for multiple myeloma, they are typically continued in patients, and as we continue these treatments, side effects happen.  And as a physician, we can support patients through side effects. It may be as simple as adding a medicine to help with nausea. It may be modifying the dose of the treatments.  

So, it’s important to kind of monitor for things like, “I’m having a rash or diarrhea” or “I am getting nausea,” and letting us know right away. What the bad outcome would be if a patient is taking a medicine doesn’t let us know about side effects and decides to stop the medicine. Obviously, if you’re not taking a chemotherapy medicine, it’s not going to be effective to treat your cancer. That happens sometimes. So, having a good communication with your physician and your team of medical providers is important so that we can modify treatment. There are lots of alternatives for adjustments in the treatment that can be made that can be just as effective as the treatment you started on. 

Katherine Banwell:

So, communication is key. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yes. For sure, for sure. 

Katherine Banwell:

If treatment is successful, then when is a patient considered in remission? And what does remission mean? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Remission – there are gradients on remission in myeloma. And we can have a partial remission which means we kill about half of the cancer cells. We can have very good partial remissions, or we can have complete remissions. And those equate to the depth of response or how well the myeloma responded. Those are measured by bloodwork, bone marrow biopsy, and may be repeat imaging or x-rays. So, if you have a complete remission, that means, we can’t detect that protein in the blood that was detected before, or protein that was detected in the urine, and we can’t detect the cancer cells on a bone marrow biopsy. We know that the deeper your remission or response to treatment, that equates typically with a longer time before the cancer may come back or need other therapies.   

Myeloma is a type of cancer that tends to come back, so we have very effective therapies, and sometimes, these therapies can get the myeloma to a state that we can’t detect one in a million cancer cells, but it tends to come back. And so, complete remissions means that, “Yes, it’s a good chance that the myeloma is not going to come back for years for you, but you still need to be monitored. You’re not necessarily cured of the cancer.” 

Katherine Banwell:

Unfortunately, relapse can occur after treatment as you’ve been talking about. And sometimes, a patient’s disease doesn’t respond to therapy, and that’s called refractory disease. What are the indicators that a patient’s disease may have relapsed?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, so we would typically be following a patient about every three months. Somebody that has gone through the initial induction, consolidation, maybe they’re on maintenance therapy, or maybe they’re on active therapy for after they have relapsed from a myeloma. Each of those visits every three months, we are monitoring bloodwork, we’re monitoring the monoclonal protein that the myeloma produces.  

Or if it doesn’t produce much of that protein, we’re monitoring other parameters, so urine testing or maybe even imaging like a PET scan. And we’re looking for consistent rises in that number, and we’re looking for, not necessarily a little rise in the protein, but incremental continuous rise – that suggests that the myeloma is starting to grow again, and it’s growing on the current treatment, and we need to switch gears and try a different treatment. There are some patients who – that protein, the myeloma or the myeloma cancer doesn’t die to treatments – that’s refractory. So, we try a treatment, and there’s just no response. We don’t see a drop in the protein in the blood, we still see a good burden of the myeloma in the bone marrow biopsy. And those patients, that’s also an indication to try a different treatment.   

Katherine Banwell:

You mentioned that myeloma often returns, so how typical is it for a patient to relapse? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, I would say that’s the norm for patients with myeloma. There are reports in patients who undergo things like stem cell transplant, that maybe 10 percent of patients might be out 10 years without detection of their myeloma, but that’s not the norm. So, most patients who are diagnosed with myeloma will go through periods of treatment and hopefully periods of remission – the majority go into periods of remission to myeloma where it’s not very active, but the myeloma tends to come back. 

Katherine Banwell:

If a person is relapsed or refractory, how are they typically treated? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, when they relapse, it depends on their prior treatment. So, if the myeloma is not responding to a drug, then it is, from the physician’s perspective that’s treating you, a good idea to change the type of chemotherapy drug that you’re on. Any time, whether it’s diagnosis or relapse, clinical trials are appropriate to engage with and potentially even use as primary treatment. All clinical studies in myeloma or for cancer in general are typically engineered around active treatments for the cancer. And so, those studies in myeloma when you’re having the cancer relapse, say, early in the course of your cancer, those studies typically are geared to use drugs that are approved by the FDA. Later in the lines of treatment, maybe you’ve had to progress after four lines of treatment, but trying to move them earlier, and they’re very active in the fourth line.  

So, you could potentially have access to an active treatment moved earlier in the treatment through a clinical trial. There is also a long list of other approved myeloma therapies. There is a good handout, I think, through the NCCN for patients for myeloma that lists a lot of the approved myeloma therapies and kind of guides patients. It’s a good resource book that I would point any of the listeners to. 

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s a great idea. Thank you for that. What about emerging therapies for myeloma? What approaches are showing promise? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, I think the biggest news in myeloma, and across a lot of cancers now, are immunotherapies. We know in myeloma – now we have two CAR-T cells –  

Now a CAR-T cell is engineering your own immune cell called a T cell to express a receptor on its surface that binds to the myeloma, and then those immune cells go and kill the myeloma. That’s a form of immunotherapy.  

There’s two CAR-T cells for treating myeloma after the myeloma has come back four times, has needed four treatments. Those are very active in that line of therapy, and we can see response rates over 80 percent in patients who otherwise weren’t responding to other approved therapies for myeloma.  

On the other hand, there are other immunotherapies that are used earlier in the treatment course of myeloma. One that is not incorporated more frequently for the initial treatment is a drug called daratumumab – it’s an antibody. It’s a protein that binds to the surface of myeloma and stimulates the immune system to react against the myeloma. And so, it’s not a traditional chemotherapy, but it’s using your own immune system to attack the cancer.  

And then a third one that’s probably just as – it looks just as potentially effective as CAR-T cells are called bispecific antibodies. And that would use a protein similar to daratumumab which is an antibody, but it uses parts of antibodies to bind to – it could be two different proteins – one expressed on a T cell, the other one expressed on the myeloma cells. And when it binds, it brings those two cells together and causes your own immune system to attack the myeloma. Those are also very effective, and within the next month or two, there will be a bispecific antibody approved for treating patients with myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great news. Any others?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, well – I mean, the other potential – there are other immune cells called natural killer cells that are also in clinical trials for development to attack myeloma, and potentially even engineering those natural killer cells to attack myeloma.  

There are other antibodies; sometimes the antibodies of protein bind a specific target on the surface of the myeloma. I mentioned one – daratumumab – but there is a whole list of others that are in clinical development. The one other antibody – or two, couple of other antibodies that are approved for treating myeloma are isatuximab which also binds to CD38. And another one called elotuzumab which binds to a protein called CS1 or SLAMF7 on the surface of myeloma.  

That’s more information than you probably wanted or needed, but those antibody therapies can be very effective in treating myeloma. There is another antibody therapy that has a payload of a toxin on the antibody, and it binds to BCMA or B-cell maturation antigen.  

That’s the same antigen that the bispecific antibodies as well as the CAR-T cells are targeting on myeloma surface, and so that is potentially one that is approved by the FDA also to treat myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Let’s go to some audience questions. PEN community member, Mark, sent in this question prior to the program, “When is the right time for a clinical trial? When everything else is refractory?” 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

No, I think clinical trials should be – you should engage your oncologist to talk about clinical trials right from the beginning. We typically think about clinical studies – they could be interventional where we’re actually giving a treatment. Some clinical trials are observational where we’re trying to learn about disease course in response to traditional therapies. Either of those may have direct benefit to the patient, or maybe it doesn’t affect the patient, but it affects future patients with myeloma.  

There are clinical studies like I mentioned that are moving therapies that are approved, but they’re approved after patients have been treated four or five times for their myeloma, and they’re now being moved earlier in the treatment. Some of those are at the initial treatment of myeloma in that induction phase. And so, we think that maybe by using some of these newer therapies or that immunotherapy class earlier on in the treatment of myeloma could result in deeper responses. We don’t know if it’s going to result in cures or that long remission beyond five or 10 years, but that’s the hope. If we can move the therapies earlier and prevent the cancer from becoming resistant to multiple treatments, maybe we can lead to longer remissions and longer survival of cancer patients. So, engage with your oncologist from the beginning through all of your treatment lines about clinical trials, is what I would say.  

Katherine Banwell:

Well, how can patients find out about clinical trials and what might be right for them? Where should they start?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

I mean, starting with your physician and having that conversation is a good start, but there are resources for patients. The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation MMRF has good resources. There is a – called Myeloma Crowd that also has resources for patients with myeloma and social support for patients with myeloma to try to find and match you with a clinical trial. And then if you’re really academic and interested in doing your own homework online, all clinical studies in the United States, even internationally, are registered on a website called clinicaltrials.gov. Clinicaltrials.gov is – it can be searched, so you can search for myeloma; you can search for a specific drug.  

That will tell you, where are the studies being done, who are the study personnel, who should I contact to find out about the study? Unfortunately, not everybody can travel for treatment for their myeloma, and the best chance of potentially participating in a research study is to initially talk with your oncologist about it. There may be a larger center nearby that you can visit to consider clinical trials.  

Clinical trials that are trying to use the new immunotherapies would be a great option, but they may not be offered in, say, a community oncology practice. You have to have the infrastructure to conduct those studies. And if you have the resources to be able to travel, then finding something on clinicaltrials.gov and – I’ve had patients do the legwork and talk with their local oncologist and get referred to a center that actually has a study that they’re interested in participating.  

But a lot of times, studies are going to have you visit the center for all the screening tests and all the procedures for study. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right, so you have to know that you have the time available as well as the resources. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Right, and the resources to do it. Yeah.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Trevor had this question, Dr. Schroeder, “My myeloma is considered high-risk. What treatment options are available to me, and are there clinical trials specifically for high-risk disease?” 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, great question. High-risk myeloma happens in about a quarter of patients, so one in four patients will have high-risk myeloma at the diagnosis. And it’s important because we know that when we say high-risk, that means that the myeloma is going to potentially come back sooner after treatments. It doesn’t mean that the treatment you’re going to be given is less effective, but it has a high propensity to come back sooner.  

Those patients with high-risk myeloma still benefit from a lot of treatments that we have for myeloma, but there are clinical trials geared to try and increase treatment in patients with high-risk myeloma to try to change the fact that their cancer comes back sooner than somebody who doesn’t have the high-risk features by using a novel chemotherapies or novel drugs to try to improve responses. So, there are for sure clinical studies, either at – potentially at initial diagnosis or at the time of relapse that could be entertained for patients with high-risk myeloma. And I would encourage you to seek those out for sure.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Great. Thank you. And please continue to send in your questions to questions@powerfulpatients.org, and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs. As we close out our conversation, Dr. Shroeder, I wanted to get your take on the future of myeloma. What makes you hopeful? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Well, I am hopeful – just within the last five years, there have been a number of new drugs approved for myeloma. They are approved for later lines of therapy, but they are being moved earlier in the treatment. And within the last 10-20 years, we’ve seen an improvement in the survival of patients with myeloma. As these new therapies are in development, as they’re being moved earlier in the treatment line, I’m very hopeful that survival and potentially cure for this cancer is possible. The only way that we’re going to get to that point is through clinical research and for patients to partner with their physicians and to consider clinical trials because that is the only way that new drugs get approved and are available to other patients with myeloma. So, I’m excited about what is approved; I’m excited about what’s coming through the pipeline to treat myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Schroeder, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

You’re welcome, Katherine. It was a pleasure.  

Katherine Banwell:

And thank you for 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 for joining us today. 

What Myeloma Patients Should Know About Treatment Monitoring

What Myeloma Patients Should Know About Treatment Monitoring from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do you know if your myeloma treatment is working? Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma specialist, reviews how treatment response is measured in myeloma and why it’s important to share any symptoms or side effects with the healthcare team.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

So, once treatment has begun, how do you know if it’s working? 

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. So, the majority of myeloma patients are what we call “secretory.” And by “secretory,” it means that the cancer cells secrete a protein that we can measure in the blood either an M-spike, which is an intact immunoglobulin like IgG and kappa, or a free light chain. It doesn’t make that IgG part, just a free kappa or free lambda. And basically, when these protein levels go up, we know the cancer cells are growing. When these go down, we know we’re killing the cancer cells. And we actually call your remission based on how much we lower it.  

If we lower it 25 to 49 percent, that’s an MR or minor response, or minor remission. 50 to 89 percent is a PR, partial response, partial remission. 90 to 99 percent is a VGPR, a very good partial remission, and then all gone in the blood and then we do a bone marrow is a CR or complete remission.  

For some people, their disease can be non-secretory where the cancer cells don’t make that protein anymore.  

And for those people, we need to do regular imaging to see if they have growths of myeloma we call plasmacytomas, or unfortunately, we need to do regular bone marrow biopsies to see how much of the bad cells are growing inside the marrow. 

Katherine:

All right. How do you know when it’s time to switch treatment? 

Dr. Richter:

So, in general, when patients fulfill the criteria for what we call “progressive disease” or PD, that’s the time to change, or intolerance that regardless of how we dose adjust, dose hold or add supportive care, it’s not tolerable for a patient to continue.  

Intolerance is a very personal thing. There are things that certain people are willing to tolerate and others not. So, we try to adjust that. Just like we have criteria for response, PR, VGPR, we have criteria for progression. And in general, it’s a 25 percent increase from your baseline and 0.5 increase in your M-spike or 100 increase in your light chains. So, when the disease numbers are going up, we tend to switch.  

Now, people may say, “But I feel fine,” and a lot of this is because you’re diagnosed with an amount of disease up here. We get you in remission, you’re down here. And once you go like this, we can see the writing on the wall and we’d rather be proactive than reactive. So, instead of waiting until the numbers get up here to cause trouble, once it goes from there to there, we intervene, change therapy to bring it back down. 

Katherine:

Dr. Richter, why is it essential for patients to share any issues they may be having with their healthcare team?  

Dr. Richter:

It is absolutely crucial because some things that may be very, very minor to them may be the tip of the iceberg of something very, very worrisome that we really need to investigate because sometimes, little problems are little now, and over time, they can become problems that we can’t so easily reverse. So, things like neuropathy, fatigue, or actually better yet, what I tell my patients is, “You know your body. If there is something out of the ordinary, big or small, let us know.”  

And I would way rather a patient tell me 10 things in a row that mean nothing than not tell me about that one thing that means something.  

So, for example, one of the disorders that’s associated with myeloma is called amyloidosis.  

And when amyloid attacks the kidneys, you start to have protein in the urine, and this looks like bubbles, like foam in the urine. So, if someone has no foam when they urinate, and then over a period of months to years, they’re starting to notice lots of foam, tell me because that means we may need to look for things like amyloid.  

So, really any time something changes.  

Key Factors That Guide Myeloma Treatment Decisions

Key Factors That Guide Myeloma Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Treatment for myeloma varies from one patient to the next. Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma specialist, reviews the factors that are considered when choosing a treatment approach.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What I would like to look at is because everyone’s different, what’s going to work for one patient might not work for another. So, how do you choose which treatment is right for a patient? 

Dr. Richter:

Really great question. So, unfortunately, myeloma, we don’t have the granularity just yet to say exactly what’s going to work for everyone. Our goal is to kind of be what I like to think of as urinary tract infections. You have a UTI, you pee on a dish, we put little discs of antibiotics and a couple of days later, we’re like, “You have an E. coli and Cipro will work.” You get the Cipro, and it goes way. We don’t really have that outside of a few drugs. We do know that the drug venetoclax (Venclexta) works really well in people who have a very specific type of translocation in their myeloma cells, something we call translocation (11;14).  

But for the most part, we don’t know, and we have lots of options and we decide what drugs to use based on three factors: disease-related factors, treatment-related factors, patient-related factors. So, patient-related factors. Are you older or younger? Fit or frail? Do you have comorbidities? If you have a lot of neuropathy from diabetes, I don’t want to give you a drug that’s going to cause more neuropathy. If you have a lot of cardiac issues, I’m not going to give you a cardiac drug. Disease-related factors. Is your disease growing fast or slow? Can I give you some pills or do I need to give you intravenous immediately to stop it? Is it pressing on a nerve? Do I need to add radiation?  

So, those are some of the big factors. And then, treatment-related factors. Have you had certain other drugs? So, if you’re refractory to lenalidomide (Revlimid), I may not want to give you Revlimid again. 

If you have a lot of side effects or didn’t respond well to Revlimid, I may not want to use another drug similar to Revlimid like pomalidomide (Pomalyst).  

I may want to choose another class. So, that’s kind of putting all of that together to come up with a treatment choice because there’s no clear guideline. 

What Are Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma?

What Are Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma specialist, explains what it means to have relapsed myeloma or refractory myeloma.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s define a couple of terms that are often mentioned in myeloma care. What does it mean to be refractory, and how is that different from relapsing? 

Dr. Richter:

Great question. So, these terms have very specific definitions in myeloma. “Relapsing” just means that the disease is coming back. So, you had myeloma that was measurable, you went into a remission, and now it is showing signs that it’s coming back. We call that “relapsing.” And depending upon what type of myeloma, we have specific definitions. So, if you’re IgG kappa and you make an M-spike, if your M-spike goes up at least 0.5 and at least 25 percent, we call that “relapsing.” If you’re a light chain, it’s gotta go up by at least 100. But you’ve got to make sure the units are right.  

“Refractory” means that you either did not respond or you’re progressing on or within 60 days of your last treatment.  

So, I put you on Revlimid maintenance, and you’re on Revlimid, and your disease gets worse. You are now relapsed and refractory to Revlimid. If I give you a transplant and then I put you on nothing, and two years later your disease comes back, you’re relapsed but not refractory.  

Myeloma Research | CAR-T Cell & Bispecifics Study Updates

Myeloma Research | CAR-T Cell & Bispecifics Study Updates from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Joshua Richter reviews the latest updates in myeloma research from the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting and the European Hematology Association (EHA) Congress.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

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Updates in CAR T-Cell Therapy for Myeloma from ASH 2021

Updates in CAR T-Cell Therapy for Myeloma from ASH 2021


Transcript:

Katherine:

There were two major cancer meetings recently, ASCO and EHA. Are there research updates from those meetings that myeloma patients should know about?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. These are some of the biggest meetings that we have every year that attract all types of people, patients, caregivers, physicians, nurses, Pharma, even investors from all over the world. We’re coming off of the back-to-back American Society of Clinical Oncology and European Hematology Association meetings, and there were a couple of really important updates and data. One of them at ASCO actually had what we call a plenary session.

A plenary is the top type of session at any one of these congresses, and it was around something called the DETERMINATION trial which looked at something a lot of patients may be familiar with, the notion of getting VRd, Velcade, Revlimid, and dexamethasone, with or without getting a stem cell transplant as part of their initial treatment. Now, many years ago when our initial therapy was not so good, we showed that transplant was better than what was good 30 years ago.

But, we have better treatments now. So, do we still need high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant?

And what was really interesting about this data set is that if you do get a transplant upfront, you do seem to have a longer PFS, progression-free survival, meaning you stay in remission longer if you get your transplant as part of your initial therapy. However, there was no difference in overall survival, meaning how long you actually lived. And this may not make a lot of sense at first, but think about patient one who stays in remission longer, but because now their disease is a little more refractory, the subsequent therapies don’t work as well as compared to the person who doesn’t get the transplant upfront.

And then those latter therapies work a little better, and when you add them all up, they come out about the same. So, I think one of the things that comes out of this is, “Do I need the transplant?” No, you don’t need the transplant as part of your initial therapy.

We’re still trying to figure out who really needs it and who doesn’t, but you can always never do it or save it for a later time. So, that was really one of the big things that came out of the ASCO meeting.

Katherine:

What about EHA?

Dr. Richter:

So, EHA had a lot of updates both in terms of CAR T-cell therapies and bispecific antibodies, and bispecific antibodies are near and dear to my heart. They’re my big passion in myeloma, and I had the honor of presenting updated data on the Regeneron 5458 bispecific antibody at EHA.

This is a BCMA CD3 bispecific. So, many people may be familiar with monoclonal antibodies like daratumumab, which is just an antibody that gets injected and attacks the cancer.

Bispecifics are molecules that are injected that have two arms. One grabs onto the cancer cell; the other grabs onto your own immune cells that we call T cells and activates them to attack the cancer. Very interesting new therapy.

Very exciting, and very high response rates in people who have had tons and tons of treatment. So, in people that have seen almost everything in the highest dosing group of the study, 75 percent of people responded, which is very, very high.

But more notably, the big side effect we look out for called CRS or cytokine release syndrome, that’s where we activate your T cells and they get so activated they can cause other problems. That can be pretty high in some of our immune therapies, but in this drug, there’s only 38 percent, and all of this was relatively minor. It wasn’t the really big stuff.

So, the reason why this is so near and dear to my heart is that some of these therapies like CAR T have to be given in a major center that does transplants.

But bispecific antibodies, if put together the right way, can be given in your local hematologist’s, oncologist’s office. So, a lot of great potential long-term get everybody treated with these drugs. And then, one or two other little things that I thought were really huge, one was the combining of bispecific antibodies. Studies called the TRIM protocols combined two different bispecific antibodies, one called teclistamab, and one called told talquetamab. Each got combined with daratumumab.

So, not only are we already seeing just the bispecific by itself, we’re starting to combine it and seeing unbelievable response rates. That was updated at EHA, which was groundbreaking. And then in CAR Ts, two things really caught my mind. One was the CARTITUDE-2 data basically giving CAR Ts earlier on to patients had a 100 percent response rate. Can’t really do better than 100 percent. So, it’s not just about getting 100 percent of people in remission.

It’s keeping them there and curing them, and it starts by getting 100 percent of people to respond. So, really looking forward to see how this develops.

But one of the other things was another CAR T that’s coming out of China that targets two different things. It targets BCMA and CD19, both of which can be found on myeloma cells, although CD19 is actually on the myeloma stem cell. It’s a little kooky. But one of the big issues with CAR Ts is manufacturing time. Right now, it takes four to eight weeks to make them. But in this construct, they were able to make them, it took them between 22 and 36 hours. So, for many people, they were able to manufacture the CAR Ts, theoretically, for patients within one day.

So, if we can not only get this therapy to work but shrink the manufacturing from a month or two to a day or two, that would make this more accessible to more patients, get them to their treatment on time. So, the sky’s the limit with our immune options right now.

Katherine:

What makes you hopeful? 

Dr. Richter:

So, we’ve had what we call Gestalt switches in myeloma. And what I mean by that is let’s rewind decades ago. We gave chemotherapy. Chemotherapy was designed to kill any cell that divides rapidly because that’s what cancer cells like to do.  

It kills the good and the bad. It makes your hair fall out, throw up, horrible stuff. It doesn’t work too well. Then about 20 years ago, we started this switch to the novel therapies, Revlimid, thalidomide, Velcade, and then a decade later, daratumumab. And now, we’re having targeted agents which spend more time targeting the bad stuff, less time doing off-target stuff, really ramping things up.  

We are at the precipice of a brand-new Gestalt switch in myeloma. The immune world. The immune therapies. And right now, T-cell redirection therapy is what we call it either with CAR-Ts, where we take your T cells out, engineer them, and put them back into your body all revved up, or we give you an off-the-shelf, bispecific that grabs onto your cancer and your T cell and, brace yourself, we even have trispecifics, which can engage your myeloma, another cell in your body, and yet another cell.  

If you go on clinicaltrials.gov, which lists all the trials for everything, every disease, there are over 3,000 active trials in myeloma.  

And what I tell people is when I first started and I sat across from a patient, I would say, “I’m really sorry. It’s not curable.” And now I say, “We are curing some people today by accident.” But over the next period of time, we’re going to do this deliberately and more frequently. And the goal is and always has been 100 percent of cure for 100 percent of patients, 100 percent of the time.  

And, I kind of feel right now we’re almost like that 2001: A Space Odyssey when the obelisk lands. We have these immune therapies. We know they’re great. How do we combine them? How do we use them? How do we take all these great tools and turn it into a cure for everyone?”   

And with so many great partners between advocacy groups and pharma and patients and cancer centers, we’re going to collaborate, and we’re going to start getting those answers in my lifetime, and I could not be more excited about that.   

Katherine:

Oh, I bet. I bet. 

Thriving With Myeloma: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

Thriving with Myeloma: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What does it mean to thrive with myeloma? Myeloma specialist and researcher, Dr. Joshua Richter discusses the goals of myeloma care, reviews treatment options –including research updates – and shares tools for taking an active role in decisions.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

Download Guide

See More from Thrive Myeloma


Related Programs:

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The Latest in Myeloma Research: Updates from ASH 2021

The Latest in Myeloma Research: Updates from ASH 2021

Updates in CAR T-Cell Therapy for Myeloma from ASH 2021

Updates in CAR T-Cell Therapy for Myeloma from ASH 2021


Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today’s webinar is about how to live and thrive with myeloma. We’re going to discuss myeloma treatment goals and how you can play an active role in your care. Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. 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. Let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Joshua Richter. Dr. Richter, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Richter:

Hi. Thank you for having me today. My name is Joshua Richter.

I’m an associate professor of medicine at the Tisch Cancer Institute Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the director of myeloma at the Blavatnik Family Chelsea Medical Center of Mount Sinai.

Katherine:

Great. Thank you for taking the time to join us today. There were two major cancer meetings recently, ASCO and EHA. Are there research updates from those meetings that myeloma patients should know about?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. These are some of the biggest meetings that we have every year that attract all types of people, patients, caregivers, physicians, nurses, Pharma, even investors from all over the world. We’re coming off of the back-to-back American Society of Clinical Oncology and European Hematology Association meetings, and there were a couple of really important updates and data. One of them at ASCO actually had what we call a plenary session.

A plenary is the top type of session at any one of these congresses, and it was around something called the DETERMINATION trial which looked at something a lot of patients may be familiar with, the notion of getting VRd, Velcade, Revlimid, and dexamethasone, with or without getting a stem cell transplant as part of their initial treatment. Now, many years ago when our initial therapy was not so good, we showed that transplant was better than what was good 30 years ago.

But, we have better treatments now. So, do we still need high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant?

And what was really interesting about this data set is that if you do get a transplant upfront, you do seem to have a longer PFS, progression-free survival, meaning you stay in remission longer if you get your transplant as part of your initial therapy. However, there was no difference in overall survival, meaning how long you actually lived. And this may not make a lot of sense at first, but think about patient one who stays in remission longer, but because now their disease is a little more refractory, the subsequent therapies don’t work as well as compared to the person who doesn’t get the transplant upfront.

And then those latter therapies work a little better, and when you add them all up, they come out about the same. So, I think one of the things that comes out of this is, “Do I need the transplant?” No, you don’t need the transplant as part of your initial therapy.

We’re still trying to figure out who really needs it and who doesn’t, but you can always never do it or save it for a later time. So, that was really one of the big things that came out of the ASCO meeting.

Katherine:

What about EHA?

Dr. Richter:

So, EHA had a lot of updates both in terms of CAR T-cell therapies and bispecific antibodies, and bispecific antibodies are near and dear to my heart. They’re my big passion in myeloma, and I had the honor of presenting updated data on the Regeneron 5458 bispecific antibody at EHA.

This is a BCMA CD3 bispecific. So, many people may be familiar with monoclonal antibodies like daratumumab, which is just an antibody that gets injected and attacks the cancer.

Bispecifics are molecules that are injected that have two arms. One grabs onto the cancer cell; the other grabs onto your own immune cells that we call T cells and activates them to attack the cancer. Very interesting new therapy.

Very exciting, and very high response rates in people who have had tons and tons of treatment. So, in people that have seen almost everything in the highest dosing group of the study, 75 percent of people responded, which is very, very high.

But more notably, the big side effect we look out for called CRS or cytokine release syndrome, that’s where we activate your T cells and they get so activated they can cause other problems. That can be pretty high in some of our immune therapies, but in this drug, there’s only 38 percent, and all of this was relatively minor. It wasn’t the really big stuff.

So, the reason why this is so near and dear to my heart is that some of these therapies like CAR T have to be given in a major center that does transplants.

But bispecific antibodies, if put together the right way, can be given in your local hematologist’s, oncologist’s office. So, a lot of great potential long-term get everybody treated with these drugs. And then, one or two other little things that I thought were really huge, one was the combining of bispecific antibodies. Studies called the TRIM protocols combined two different bispecific antibodies, one called teclistamab, and one called told talquetamab. Each got combined with daratumumab.

So, not only are we already seeing just the bispecific by itself, we’re starting to combine it and seeing unbelievable response rates. That was updated at EHA, which was groundbreaking. And then in CAR Ts, two things really caught my mind. One was the CARTITUDE-2 data basically giving CAR Ts earlier on to patients had a 100 percent response rate. Can’t really do better than 100 percent. So, it’s not just about getting 100 percent of people in remission.

It’s keeping them there and curing them, and it starts by getting 100 percent of people to respond. So, really looking forward to see how this develops.

But one of the other things was another CAR T that’s coming out of China that targets two different things. It targets BCMA and CD19, both of which can be found on myeloma cells, although CD19 is actually on the myeloma stem cell. It’s a little kooky. But one of the big issues with CAR Ts is manufacturing time. Right now, it takes four to eight weeks to make them. But in this construct, they were able to make them, it took them between 22 and 36 hours. So, for many people, they were able to manufacture the CAR Ts, theoretically, for patients within one day.

So, if we can not only get this therapy to work but shrink the manufacturing from a month or two to a day or two, that would make this more accessible to more patients, get them to their treatment on time. So, the sky’s the limit with our immune options right now.

Katherine:

Excellent. Since this webinar is part of Patient Empowerment Network’s Thrive series, I thought we could start by getting your opinion on what you think it means to thrive with myeloma.

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. And I love that term. I recently chaired a 5K walk for the MMRF, and the word that is thrown around a lot in cancer is “survivorship.” And, I got up there and I said, “That’s not a word I like to use. I like to use the word “thrivorship.” So, I love that you’re using this word because to me, surviving is an important part of dealing with cancer, but it’s the first step. Thriving is the goal. The goal is not to just get through it. It’s to go beyond it. It’s to do everything you want to do in life: personal, family, business, anything you want.

If you want to spend your time fishing, if you want to spend your time skydiving, if you want to spend time with your grandkids, and enjoying that time, and as much as humanly possible, keeping the notion of cancer way out of your brain. To me, that is thriving and not just surviving with a diagnosis like myeloma.

Katherine:

That helps us guide through the conversation as we continue on. Getting the appropriate myeloma care is, of course, part of thriving. So, let’s talk about treatment. How would you define treatment goals?

Dr. Richter:

Sure. So, treatment goals are different for each different individual because unfortunately, myeloma tends to affect people who are older. So, whereas the goals for an 85 or 90-year-old diagnosed with the disease is maybe things like, “I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to have as many side effects,” but the goal is not to live 40 years, that’s different from a 40-year-old who may say, “I’m willing to tolerate certain side effects because I want to live as far as possible.” So, in reality, there always has to be this huge balance. And as with anything in medicine, an open dialogue with your care team is crucial to understand what your goals are because a lot of us make assumptions on both sides.

The patient may assume that we want certain things out of this. We may assume the patient wants certain goals. Really open, vibrant discussions where there are no taboos, there’s nothing wrong to say. I’ve had patients say, “I don’t care what happens. My granddaughter is getting married next year. I need to be there.

Anything beyond that, I don’t care.” That’s their goal. They’re entitled to their goal. I will work with them within that construct. So, really being open about what the goals are. Right now, what I tell patients is, especially for younger patients who if you’re already 85 or 90, you’re getting closer and closer to how long you’re likely to survive even without myeloma.

It’s kind of hard to have a 90-year-old have a 30-year survival. We’re not living to 120 just yet anyway. But for most of my patients, I say my goal is to either keep you in remission so long that you pass from something else many years from now, or to keep you moving until we have a cure that we can just give you and then make sure that that cure, that you’re able to accept it. That your body’s intact, your bone marrow’s contact, and this is something we can provide for you.

Katherine:

Well, tell me what you think the patient’s role is, then, in setting care goals.

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. The patient has the most crucial role of course. And, one of the things is honesty and really being to a point of brutal honesty with how they’re doing. I always tell patients, “You don’t get extra points for suffering. It’s not that if you sit there in pain you’re going to do better. Let me know what type of pain you’re having.” And pain doesn’t just mean a bone is hurting, or a muscle’s hurting, we call somatic pain.

There can be neuropathic pain where the nerves hurt.

There can be emotional and spiritual pain. These things all need to be addressed. And if you are suffering in silence, we have a lot of tools nowadays not just medicines. We have people to talk to. We have resources. So, letting us in to help is one of the most crucial things because we’ve actually shown that if you actually improve some of these, you may actually improve overall outcomes. So, the patient, please, all we want to do on the care side of the equation is help.

Let us know what’s bothering you. It may be small to you, it may be big to us, or vice versa, but the more open you are, the better we can help.

Katherine:

Yeah, that’s great advice. Before we move on to discussing how the treatment choice is determined, let’s define a couple of terms that are often mentioned in myeloma care. What does it mean to be refractory and how is that different from relapsing?

Dr. Richter:

Great question. So, these terms have very specific definitions in myeloma. “Relapsing” just means that the disease is coming back. So, you had myeloma that was measurable, you went into a remission, and now it is showing signs that it’s coming back. We call that “relapsing.” And depending upon what type of myeloma, we have specific definitions. So, if you’re IgG kappa and you make an M-spike, if your M-spike goes up at least 0.5 and at least 25 percent, we call that “relapsing.” If you’re a light chain, it’s gotta go up by at least 100. But, you’ve gotta make sure the units are right.

“Refractory” means that you either did not respond or you’re progressing on or within 60 days of your last treatment. So, I put you on Revlimid maintenance, and you’re on Revlimid, and your disease gets worse. You are now relapsed and refractory to Revlimid. If I give you a transplant and then I put you on nothing, and two years later your disease comes back, you’re relapsed but not refractory.

Katherine:

What I would like to look at is because everyone’s different, what’s going to work for one patient might not work for another. So, how do you choose which treatment is right for a patient?

Dr. Richter:

Really great question. So, unfortunately, myeloma, we don’t have the granularity just yet to say exactly what’s going to work for everyone. Our goal is to kind of be what I like to think of as urinary tract infections. You have a UTI, you pee on a dish, we put little discs of antibiotics and a couple of days later, we’re like, “You have an E. coli and Cipro will work.” You get the Cipro and it goes way. We don’t really have that outside of a few drugs. We do know that the drug venetoclax works really well in people who have a very specific type of translocation in their myeloma cells, something we call translocation (11;14).

But for the most part, we don’t know, and we have lots of options and we decide what drugs to use based on three factors: disease-related factors, treatment-related factors, patient-related factors. So, patient-related factors. Are you older or younger? Fit or frail? Do you have comorbidities? If you have a lot of neuropathy from diabetes, I don’t want to give you a drug that’s going to cause more neuropathy. If you have a lot of cardiac issues, I’m not going to give you a cardiac drug. Disease-related factors. Is your disease growing fast or slow? Can I give you some pills or do I need to give you intravenous immediately to stop it? Is it pressing on a nerve? Do I need to add radiation?

So, those are some of the big factors. And then, treatment related factors. Have you had certain other drugs? So, if you’re refractory to Revlimid, I may not want to give you Revlimid again. If you have a lot of side effects or didn’t respond well to Revlimid, I may not want to use another drug similar to Revlimid like Pomalyst.

I may want to choose another class. So, that’s kind of putting all of that together to come up with a treatment choice because there’s no clear guideline.

Katherine:

Right. Can you help us understand some of the common issues that myeloma patients experience and how they might be managed?

Dr. Richter:

Sure. So, fatigue is an absolutely huge one. And fatigue can come from a lot of different things. One, fatigue can come from other medicines. A lot of patients have cardiac issues and may be on other medicines causing fatigue. So, optimizing your other clinical status is important. Anemia can lead to fatigue, so we monitor your blood counts very closely, and if they drop, can we provide medicines to boost them up? Drugs. Some of the therapies we have can cause fatigue, and one of the biggest ones is Revlimid.

And, I tell people what actually tends to help is you take the Revlimid at night instead of the morning because if you take it at night, it tends to maximize the fatigue while you’re already sleeping. If you take it in the morning, it tends to maximize at that horrible, coffee-needing hour of 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., or 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. where you’re like, “Oh, I’ve gotta lie down.” So, fatigue is a really big one. Neuropathy. Neuropathy is really getting less and less in our new patients because more of our modern drugs don’t cause it, but unfortunately, some patients still have neuropathy and they may be using drugs like gabapentin or Lyrica.

There’s some other really old drugs and new drugs that can help. Drugs like Pamelor, which is nortriptyline, or Cymbalta may help quite a bit, or another drug called Effexor. And, many of these drugs may be used for

anxiety and depression, but also work for neuropathy. And then, even going to things like the cannabinoids; things like marijuana derivatives may actually be able to help both in salves or even edibles may actually help some of the neuropathy issues. And then, we get into some kind of out there stuff like compounding ketamine to help with some of these salves or oral combinations. So again, a little bit of neuropathy, let us know because there may be some ways to help.

Katherine:

Are kidneys impacted by any of the medications that patients take?

Dr. Richter:

So, kidneys are an excruciatingly important part of myeloma, and d in my mind, one of the keys to long-term survival and outcome. So, there are three things that I tell all of my patients to help preserve long-term kidney health. Two of them are easy to wrap the head around. One is a little bit harder. Number one, keep yourself well hydrated. The kidneys are like a filter. Think, like, the filter for your car. If you drove 100,000 miles in the desert and didn’t change your oil, there’d be problems. So, especially now that there’s warmer weather, by the time you already feel yourself dehydrated, you’re about 10 to 15 percent low on the total amount of body water you need.

So, especially if you’re going out there doing yard work, playing with the kids or grandkids, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Two, avoid NSAIDs. Drugs like Aleve, or naproxen, or Advil, or ibuprofen can be harmful to the kidneys. So again, please discuss with your care team. There may be better alternatives to treat your pain without hurting the kidneys. And the third is when all else possible, and avoid intravenous contrasts for CAT scans. Now, the IV contrast you get for MRIs is called gadolinium. It’s not harmful to the kidneys. But, the contrast for CAT scans is iodine-based, and although the newer formulations are better, it can still hurt the kidneys.

So, my advice is the following. If you’re in the ER at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and they want to do an urgent CAT scan with IV contrast, let them do it. It’s likely not going to be an issue. If you go to see an orthopedist and they say, “I want to get a better look at that leg that’s bothering you. I’m going to get a CAT scan with IV contrast,” tell them to call me. We’ll find an alternative.

Katherine:

Okay. All right. Good advice. Thank you. So, once treatment has begun, how do you know if it’s working?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. So, the majority of myeloma patients are what we call “secretory.” And by “secretory,” it means that the cancer cells secrete a protein that we can measure in the blood either an M-spike, which is an intact immunoglobulin like IgG and kappa, or a free light chain. It doesn’t make that IgG part, just a free kappa or free lambda. And basically, when these protein levels go up, we know the cancer cells are growing. When these go down, we know we’re killing the cancer cells. And we actually call your remission based on how much we lower it.

If we lower it 25 to 49 percent, that’s an MR or minor response, or minor remission. 50 to 89 percent is a PR, partial response, partial remission. 90 to 99 percent is a VGPR, a very good partial remission, and then all gone in the blood and then we do a bone marrow is a CR or complete remission.

For some people, their disease can be non-secretory where the cancer cells don’t make that protein anymore.

And for those people, we need to do regular imaging to see if they have growths of myeloma we call plasmacytomas, or unfortunately, we need to do regular bone marrow biopsies to see how much of the bad cells are growing inside the marrow.

Katherine:

All right. How do you know when it’s time to switch treatment?

Dr. Richter:

So, in general, when patients fulfill the criteria for what we call “progressive disease” or PD, that’s the time to change, or intolerance that regardless of how we dose adjust, dose hold or add supportive care, it’s not tolerable for a patient to continue.

Intolerance is a very personal thing. There are things that certain people are willing to tolerate and others not. So, we try to adjust that. Just like we have criteria for response, PR, VGPR, we have criteria for progression. And in general, it’s a 25 percent increase from your baseline and 0.5 increase in your M-spike or 100 increase in your light chains. So, when the disease numbers are going up, we tend to switch.

Now, people may say, “But I feel fine,” and a lot of this is because you’re diagnosed with an amount of disease up here. We get you in remission, you’re down here. And once you go like this, we can see the writing on the wall and we’d rather be proactive than reactive. So, instead of waiting until the numbers get up here to cause trouble, once it goes from there to there, we intervene, change therapy to bring it back down.

Katherine:

Dr. Richter, why is it essential for patients to share any issues they may be having with their healthcare team?

Dr. Richter:

It is absolutely crucial because some things that may be very, very minor to them may be the tip of the iceberg of something very, very worrisome that we really need to investigate because sometimes, little problems are little now, and over time, they can become problems that we can’t so easily reverse. So, things like neuropathy, fatigue, or actually better yet, what I tell my patients is, “You know your body. If there is something out of the ordinary, big or small, let us know.”

And I would way rather a patient tell me 10 things in a row that mean nothing than not tell me about that one thing that means something.

So, for example, one of the disorders that’s associated with myeloma is called amyloidosis.

And when amyloid attacks the kidneys, you start to have protein in the urine, and this looks like bubbles, like foam in the urine. So, if someone has no foam when they urinate, and then over a period of months to years, they’re starting to notice lots of foam, tell me because that means we may need to look for things like amyloid. So, really any time something changes.

Katherine:

Anything. Yeah. I want to make sure that we get to some of the audience questions. So, let’s start with this one. PEN community member Sal sent in this question prior to the program. “What is the difference between myeloma and multiple myeloma?”

Dr. Richter:

A really great question. For the most part, the terms are synonymous. We abbreviate multiple myeloma as myeloma. But along those lines, and I literally saw a patient today who said, “Why is it called multiple myeloma?” Well, when you have a group of bad plasma cells that forms a tumor, we call that a plasmacytoma, “cytoma” meaning “bad cells,” and “plasma” because they’re plasma cells. And when you have one of them, it is a solitary plasmacytoma. Once you have two of them, it’s multiple myeloma because it’s in multiple spots in the marrow or multiple spots in the body. So, for our purposes, we use them interchangeably, but that’s where the “multiple” comes from.

Katherine:

Okay. Isaac sent us this question. How long does the average myeloma patient remain on Revlimid? And, is there a suggested time period?

Dr. Richter:

Really great question. It depends upon the setting we’re looking at, and for the most part, a lot of people are probably asking about the maintenance setting. So, after initial therapy or after transplant, we put you on Revlimid. How long do we keep you on? The American adage has always been, “More is better,” so as long as you tolerate it and as long as it works. Outside of the U.S., they’ve done a couple of studies looking at one year and then stopping, or two years and then stopping.

And in a big trial that got presented a year or so ago, they compared the two years then stopping versus just staying on, and the people who just stay on do better.

So, now the current thinking is just keep you on long-term. What’s going to change that in the long term is we’re starting to use a technology called MRD, minimal residual disease, so, doing a marrow and trying to find one in a million or one in 10 million cancer cells.

And then, there’s something called sustained MRD meaning if you do two MRD analyses at least 12 months apart and they’re both negative, we call that sustained MRD negative.

And, there’s a hint that some people on maintenance Revlimid who have sustained their MRD negativity, they may do just as well stopping versus staying on it. We don’t know exactly who that is yet, but that’s going to be better understood in the next few years.

Katherine:

Okay. Randall writes, “I was diagnosed last year with myeloma, and my first treatment worked, but now I’ve relapsed. Is it too late to consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist? Would that change anything?

Dr. Richter:

It’s a phenomenal question. There have actually been studies to show that if you engage with a myeloma center at least once within your myeloma journey, you do better than someone who has never done that. So, it is never a bad time to seek out a specialist. And one of the good things that came out of COVID is telemedicine. So, if there’s not someone right in your area, reaching out to some of our advocacy groups to help connect you to physicians like me or any of my colleagues, we’re more than happy to see anyone, I’ll see you with an MGUS that’ll never bother you, as will all of my colleagues and people who work in myeloma.

If you’ve had one prior line, 15 prior lines, anywhere in between. So, I think it’s always a good idea to see a specialist because he or she is more than happy to work with your local doctor to optimize your treatment without having to necessarily go to another center.

Katherine:

Yeah. Well, thank you for all of that, Dr. Richter. And, please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs. So, Dr. Richter, we’ve talked a lot about why patients should play a role in their care.

What advice do you have for patients to help them feel confident in speaking up and becoming a partner in their care?

Dr. Richter: So, that’s not always easy for a lot of people to do, and for some people, no problem. They’ll speak up at the first sign of anything. One bit of advice I would give to people who may have concerns or may not feel as comfortable about doing this is first of all, there’s a lot of members of the care team. So, I have patients that may not want to mention it to me, but mention it to my nurse or the medical assistant, and we all talk. So, that’s one way.

The other thing that I think may help is involvement in patient support groups, hearing what others have to say about similar experiences and learning from them, them learning from you, and that may actually give you more of a confidence to speak with your care team. But, the advocacy groups like the MMRF and IMF have tons of local support groups where you can sit in, and specialists come and speak or people share stories. And I think that can be really helpful to figuring out your optimal journey.

Katherine:

And knowing that you’re not alone –

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely.

Katherine:

– in how you’re feeling. As we close out this conversation, I wanted to get your take on the future of myeloma. What makes you hopeful?

Dr. Richter:

So, we’ve had what we call Gestalt switches in myeloma. And what I mean by that is let’s rewind decades ago. We gave chemotherapy. Chemotherapy was designed to kill any cell that divides rapidly because that’s what cancer cells like to do.

It kills the good and the bad. It makes your hair fall out, throw up, horrible stuff. It doesn’t work too well. Then about 20 years ago, we started this switch to the novel therapies, Revlimid, thalidomide, Velcade, and then a decade later, daratumumab. And now, we’re having targeted agents which spend more time targeting the bad stuff, less time doing off-target stuff, really ramping things up.

We are at the precipice of a brand-new Gestalt switch in myeloma.

The immune world. The immune therapies. And right now, T-cell redirection therapy is what we call it either with CAR Ts, where we take your T cells out, engineer them, and put them back into your body all revved up, or we give you an off-the-shelf, bispecific that grabs onto your cancer and your T cell and, brace yourself, we even have trispecifics, which can engage your myeloma, another cell in your body, and yet another cell.

If you go on clinicaltrials.gov, which lists all the trials for everything, every disease, there are over 3,000 active trials in myeloma.

And what I tell people is when I first started and I sat across from a patient, I would say, “I’m really sorry. It’s not curable.” And now I say, “We are curing some people today by accident.” But over the next period of time, we’re going to do this deliberately and more frequently. And the goal is and always has been 100 percent of cure for 100 percent of patients, 100 percent of the time.

And, I kind of feel right now we’re almost like that 2001: A Space Odyssey when the obelisk lands. We have these immune therapies. We know they’re great. How do we combine them? How do we use them? How do we take all these great tools and turn it into a cure for everyone?”

And with so many great partners between advocacy groups and Pharma and patients and cancer centers, we’re going to collaborate and we’re going to start getting those answers in my lifetime, and I could not be more excited about that.

Katherine:

Oh, I bet. I bet. It seems like there’s been so much progress and hope in the field. Dr. Richter, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure.

Dr. Richter:

Thank you so much for having me. I’d love to come back anytime.

Katherine:

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 for joining us.