Tag Archive for: combination therapy

What Are the Phases of Myeloma Treatment?

What Are the Phases of Myeloma Treatment?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Mark Schroeder explains the phases of myeloma treatment, defining induction, consolidation, and maintenance therapy for patients with myeloma.

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.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

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. 

What Patients Should Know About Developing MPN Treatments and Research

What Patients Should Know About Developing MPN Treatments and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert Dr. Gabriela Hobbs provides an update on developments in myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment and research. Dr. Hobbs explains how clinical trials and global research collaborations advance MPN care.

Dr. Gabriela Hobbs is a hematology-oncology physician specializing in the care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), chronic myeloid leukemia and leukemia. Dr. Hobbs serves as clinical director of the adult leukemia service at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Gaby Hobbs.

See More From MPN Clinical Trials 201

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss the advancements in MPN research through clinical trials. 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. Gabby Hobbs. Dr. Hobbs, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Hi, how are you? Thank you so much for having me. My name is Gabby Hobbs. I’m the clinical director of the Adult Leukemia Service at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. And I dedicate my clinical time and research efforts to the care of patients with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms.  

Katherine:

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you.  

Katherine:

I’d like to start by discussing your role as an MPN researcher. You’re on the front lines for advancements in the field. What led you to there and why is it so important to you?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Many things in my life led me to becoming an MPN clinician. First, I wanted to be a clinical investigator since I was very little, and I read a Louis Pasteur book about – you know. And I was fascinated by the fact that you could be both a scientist and a clinician. And after that, I had phenomenal teachers and mentors. And I was really always drawn to patients with hematologic malignancies. I thought that that interaction was very intense and intimate.  

And I was honored to be a part of that interaction. And then from a research perspective and from a scientific perspective, I very clearly remember seeing when the first targeted therapy, Imatinib, was approved when I was an undergrad. And I just thought that was the most fascinating thing. And so, I’ve basically continued to feel that way as I’ve gone through my training and I’m thrilled to be able to have actually become an MPN clinician so many years later.  

Katherine:

With the American Society of Hematology or ASH meeting taking place this month, it demonstrates how researchers work together around the world to advance care.   

Can you share with the audience how this collaboration works?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, the American Society of Hematology meeting – or the ASH meeting – is really one of my favorite events of the year.  

And it really highlights what you said. It is such a positive environment, and it’s so exciting to use that opportunity to talk to my collaborators from across the globe. And I really think that that’s where the scientific community shines because really all of us are actually trying to figure out how to work together and overcome sometimes a lot of obstacles – bureaucratic obstacles, regulatory obstacles – to make sure that we can share data, do it the right way. But really we always have one thing in mind.  

And that is to be able to advance the care that we give our patients. And so, that collaboration and really that collaborative environment is always very positive. And I always come back home very energized from that. And then just seeing all my colleagues presenting all the wonderful things that they are working on and getting updates on their research is just an exciting environment.   

Katherine:

In your view, why is it essential to present and share data at these larger conferences like ASH? 

 Dr. Hobbs:

So, for many different reasons. I mean, there are many different ways of presenting data that can be done through just publishing a paper. But the nice thing about conferences – and especially large conferences – is that you really get an opportunity to present work in progress. And some of these research projects may not end up turning into bigger projects or they may not become bigger trials. But all of them have at least an opportunity to learn something from them, whether or not they worked or they didn’t work.  

Oftentimes when things are published in journals, especially the high-impact journals, we are seeing trials that had positive results. But sometimes we don’t see those smaller trials that never went anywhere. And so, having a forum when we can discuss work that’s ongoing, discuss about projects that are maybe having issues, all those things actually really help us to change our research questions or develop new research questions based on what’s working and also really what’s not working. And so, having this large forum to present all of that data, I think, is really, really important to helping us design future clinical trials and projects.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Well, this is a great way to begin our clinical trial discussion, Dr. Hobbs. This research all requires MPN patients to participate in clinical trials. So, what should be considered when deciding whether to join a trial? 

Dr. Hobbs:

What a great question. Many things need to be considered when joining a trial. And I think some patients are really eager to join a trial, and they just need to be aware that they may be either too healthy, or they may have other things going on that may not make them eligible.  

And that’s okay. There are actually many ways of participating in research, even if it’s not a clinical trial that requires a medicine. For example, we often can send patients to what’s called a tissue bank where they have patients just give a sample of blood.  

So, patients can participate in research in many different ways. When considering whether or not a patient should enroll in an actual clinical trial with a new medicine, I think it’s really important for the patients to be informed and to not be afraid to ask questions. First, what is a clinical trial? Second, what will this trial involve? Is this a drug that has never been given to people before, or is this a drug that has already undergone many different clinical trials? And this trial that’s being offered is a Phase III trial where the purpose of the study is to get the drug to be approved.  

So, I think learning about the risk of the study, how it’s been utilized. And also the other more practical things. What is the time commitment of this clinical trial? How often are you going to have to be going to the office because of the clinical trial? Because there’s certainly a big investment in the part of the patients in terms of their time. Participating in a clinical trial most of the time requires more time than not participating in a clinical trial. That’s not always the case. There are some studies that definitely don’t require that many visits.  

But most clinical trials will require at least something extra from the patient. And I think it’s really important to ask about that, to read the consent that’s given to the patients. Oftentimes these consents are very long.  

And so, they can be overwhelming. I personally find them overwhelming. And I review a lot of those consents. And so, I think taking a minute to really ask those questions, speaking to the research staff, and getting the clarification on that is really important.  

Like you said, it is impossible to approve new therapies and improve the care that we offer our patients without patients participating in the clinical trial. But that doesn’t mean that absolutely every single patient needs to participate in a clinical trial if it just doesn’t make sense for them. [14:17]  

Katherine:

There have been huge developments in the last 10 to 15 years in the field of MPN. So, I’d like to dig a little deeper. We hear about the common driver mutations in MPNs like JAK2, CALR, and MPL. How are these being studied , and what is being discovered? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, it’s amazing how in the last 15 years really so much has been discovered. You know. The JAK2 mutation was first published out in 2005 and calreticulin in 2013. So, those are relatively recent discoveries. And I think a lot of efforts has been put into learning about what these mutations are doing and how they lead to disease. And so, we have the JAK inhibitors, which block the signaling through a pathway called JAK-STAT. And all of these mutations will activate that pathway within cells.  

And so, many of the approved drugs, for example, ruxolitinib (Jakafi), fedratinib (Inrebic), and pacritinib (Vonjo), work on blocking that pathway.  

But since then we’ve also learned that there are other mutations and other pathways that are likely involved in the development of myeloproliferative neoplasms and also their progression. And so, what we’re seeing now is that many of the clinical trials that are being conducted don’t just target the JAK-STAT pathway or the pathway that’s influenced by these main mutations.  

But also block other pathways to try to really block all the variant expression of signaling in the myeloproliferative neoplasms. And so, we’re trying to attack it by many different angles.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Is there a possibility of specific targeted therapies at MPNs similar to those in AML such as FLT3 inhibitors? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Absolutely. So, similarly to AML, we know that we have mutations in similar types of genes called tyrosine kinases. So, these are enzymes that are turned on and always active. And so, I think there is definitely hope that we can develop some targeted agents. For example, ruxolitinib or the other JAK inhibitors are similar. They’re tyrosine kinase inhibitors where they block an enzyme, specifically the JAK2 enzyme.  

But I think that we can definitely do better and develop more specific inhibitors, for example, a molecule that just blocks the JAK2 mutation and not just every JAK2 molecule in every cell. Similarly to AML, there are mutations, for example, in enzymes called IDH.  

And we have IDH inhibitors for AML. And there are some studies that are using IDH inhibitors for MPN. So, I think we’re going to continue to see more targeted therapies specific to the mutations that occur in MPN.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Let’s talk about ET for a moment. Is there any research being done to help better manage this condition? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. I would say that of the three MPNs, ET is certainly the one that has the least amount of drugs that are being currently studied for this group. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any research. Ropeginterferon (Besremi), which was recently approved in polycythemia vera, is now being studied in essential thrombocythemia.  

So, I would expect in the next couple of years, if those trials are successful, to have ropeginterferon as a therapy to offer patients. There is also a clinical trial that we have at our site.  

We’re using ruxolitinib or Jakafi for patients with ET that have symptoms of their disease to see if it can help them in the same way that it can help PV or myelofibrosis patients. So, there’s definitely some research going on in ET. But probably less than for PV and myelofibrosis.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. While ET is typically well-managed, what patient type might benefit from joining a trial? 

Dr. Hobbs:

It really depends on what the patient is experiencing. I think there are some patients that really are very asymptomatic and can expect to have an excellent outcome with their disease. But they can also participate in research, for example, by participating in a tissue bank and offering a sample of their blood or if they have a bone marrow by offering some bone marrow if there’s extra. Because that can really help to understand the disease biology, if a patient is going to progress from ET to myelofibrosis.  

So, we can learn a lot from that. But then there are maybe some ET patients that need to be on a medication to reduce their blood counts or a cytoreductive agent.  

And that’s a patient that could ask about participation in a clinical trial. For example, the ropeginterferon study or, like I mentioned, there may be some patients that maybe are already on a medication and their blood counts aren’t well controlled on the first drug that was used.  

So, before considering switching to a second-line agent or a second medication, that could inquire with their clinician if there’s a clinical trial available for second-line use. Or those patients that have a lot of symptoms with ET, they could potentially be eligible for a study that addresses just symptoms.  

Katherine:

Right. That’s really good news. I’m glad you talked about that.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Mm-hmm.  

Katherine:

There was recently an interferon approved for use in patients with PV. What other studies are showing promise for patients with PV?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, we as a community, there’s been a lot of excitement about this new interferon that was approved, the ropeginterferon study. And there are still some ongoing studies utilizing ropeginterferon to see if we can use it differently. Because currently the way that that drug is approved is that it has to be titrated up very slowly to get to the maximum dose. So, that’s something that is still ongoing. In addition, there’s a new drug that’s being studied called Rusfertide (PTG-300) from a company called Protagonist. And this drug has been very interesting. It acts through iron metabolism.   

And so far in preliminary results, it has shown that a lot of the participants that receive this medication no longer need phlebotomy. And I think what’s exciting about this is that phlebotomy is a very archaic way of treating patients.  

And I hope that we can stop utilizing it. So, it’s nice to have a compound that’s specifically asking that question. And the other thing to keep in mind is that this drug has been used in combination with other drugs, which is really reflective of how participants or patients show up to clinics.  

Some patients are not going to be on any medications. Some patients may be on hydroxyurea.  

Some patients may be on an interferon. Some patients may be on Jakafi. And these trials allow participants to be on a variety of different medications. So, that’s an exciting new compound.  

Katherine:

What about myelofibrosis, Dr. Hobbs? What advances are being made in the care of patients with this more advanced MPN?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, in myelofibrosis, I would say it is almost difficult to keep track of how many clinical trials are currently open. So, in 2011, we had ruxolitinib approved, or Jakafi. That was the first JAK inhibitor. Since then we’ve had two more JAK inhibitors approved, fedratinib and most recently pacritinib. And we’re currently awaiting the fourth JAK inhibitor to be approved, and that’s called momelotinib.   

And in addition to the JAK inhibitors, there are lots of other clinical trials underway right now that are either alone – a drug by itself or a drug in combination with ruxolitinib.  

So, there are several Phase III studies. And the reason why that’s important is that after Phase III we usually see a drug approval. So, we can expect, hopefully in the next couple of years, to see many more drugs available on the market to treat patients with myelofibrosis. Some of those include agents that block different pathways within a cell. And that includes a drug called parsaclisib. There’s a drug called pelabresib, which is a BET inhibitor.  

There’s another drug called navitoclax, which is a cousin of venetoclax (Venclexta), which is a drug that we’ve been using a lot in leukemia. So, there’s lots of different drugs that are being used in combination with Ruxolitinib. There’s also a drug called luspatercept (Reblozyl) that’s also been approved for myelodysplastic syndromes. And I suspect that that’ll be approved as well to help patients with anemia. So, really, there’s lots of drugs that are being studied right now. And I think the question that we’re all asking is, well, how are we going to use all of these different drugs? So, I look forward to seeing the results of those studies.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Will some drugs work better for some patients and others not? 

Dr. Hobbs:

That is such a good question. And so, what I’m hoping to see is exactly that. I’m hoping to see that for patients, for example with anemia, perhaps we’re going to be using luspatercept and momelotinib. Perhaps we’re going to see that patients with certain mutations may respond better to certain medications like the BET inhibitors or navitoclax or the PI3 kinase inhibitor, parsaclisib. But as of now, we don’t have enough information.  

We haven’t seen enough results of these studies to start to be able to know, you know, what is the patient that’s going to do better with two drugs versus one drug? And so, I think that over the next couple of years we’re going to start to have answers to those questions.  

Katherine:

Yeah. I’d like to get specific about your research. What are you excited about right now? 

Dr. Hobbs:

A few different things. There’s a clinical trial that I’ve been leading for several years now that got somewhat delayed due to the pandemic that’s utilizing ruxolitinib before, during, and after transplantation for patients with Myelofibrosis.  

And that study is hopefully going to finish accrual in the next couple of months. So, I’m excited to see the results of that study. That study was presented at ASH of last year, the interim results of that study. And so far, we’ve seen exciting results. Patients have done well with transplant while receiving ruxolitinib.  

We’ve seen that patients that have undergone transplant and have received ruxolitinib have had very low rates of a complication of transplant called graft-versus-host disease.   

And that’s been very exciting, because we know that graft-versus-host disease is really very difficult to deal with after transplant. It can really impact quality of life. And so, that’s been exciting to see that we can help our patients to better tolerate this difficult treatment. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we’re treating patients that have low-risk essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera with ruxolitinib also to see if their quality of life can improve.  

We know that patients with ET and PV live with a lot of symptoms. And often times patients that are considered low-risk can still have a lot of symptoms. And therapies haven’t really specifically been studied just to improve symptoms. Really, therapies are usually used to reduce the risk of having blood clots.  

Katherine:

What about checkpoint inhibitors? You’ve done a study about that? Or it’s ongoing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yes. Great question. So, a few years ago we utilized a checkpoint inhibitor called Pembrolizumab for patients with advanced myeloproliferative neoplasms. And that study was open at Mass General and also at Mount Sinai. We were worried that it wouldn’t be well tolerated. But it was actually very well tolerated. But unfortunately patients didn’t have a response. And a group at MD Anderson utilized another checkpoint inhibitor, Nivolumab, for these patients. And similarly they also didn’t see a response.  

So, that was disappointing. However, I do think that there is a role for immunotherapy in patients with MPNs. I think that we probably need to think about utilizing the checkpoint inhibitors maybe earlier or maybe in combination with other agents. This has been done, for example, in solid tumors where two checkpoint inhibitors are sometimes utilized together. So, I think their area of investigation is still worth pursuing even though that was a disappointing result.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Any other research that’s going on that you’re doing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. We are looking forward to opening some clinical trials using different drugs in combination with ruxolitinib to offer different treatments to our patients up front. And so, instead of offering just single-agent JAK inhibitor, we can combine that with one of the new agents. And so, I’m looking forward to seeing how that’s going to work for my patients and to be able to offer them another treatment. I’m also thinking of developing a clinical trial for use in patients that have clonal hematopoiesis.  

So, patients that have this entity called CHIP where they have a JAK2 mutation but maybe don’t have overt disease. We know that they have a high rate of transformation to an actual MPN. So, we’re working to develop clinical trials for those patients with the hope of maybe preventing the MPN from ever happening. 

Katherine:

That’s great. We have some questions from the audience that were sent in prior to the program. Carl asks, “Are MPNs inherited? And why does one sibling develop an MPN and the other does not?”  

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. So, historically, we’ve always said MPNs are very rarely inherited. Now that we’re able to test for JAK2 mutations more commonly, we have, I think over the last decades, probably found that there are more families where the MPNs kind of run in the family.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Generally speaking, it’s very rare for MPNs to run in the family. I would say less than 10 percent of the case. And this is why a sibling can have an MPN and one doesn’t, even if they’re identical twins.  

Katherine:

Is research being done to learn more about who may be at risk for developing an MPN? 

Dr. Hobbs:

So, over the list, there’s been a lot of attention placed on this entity called clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential. And through those types of investigations, we’ve learned that people can actually live with a JAK2 mutation for many years, even decades, before they develop a myeloproliferative neoplasm. And so, indirectly, I think that type of research will help us understand why some people get the JAK2 mutation to begin with and what else needs to happen in a patient’s life for that person to develop an MPN.  

Because clearly there are many more people walking around with a JAK2 mutation than there are people with an actual MPN. So, there’s something else other than that JAK2 mutation that predisposes patients to then develop an MPN.  

Katherine:

Angela has another question. “What are the long-term effects of JAK inhibitors? And what happens when JAK inhibitors are no longer effective?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. Great question. So, so far the patients that have been on JAK inhibitors for a long time don’t seem to have the development of additional toxicities that we didn’t know about. So, I’ll just comment on some of the things that we do know about. Weight gain is a common complaint that I have from patients, especially those that have polycythemia vera, because maybe they didn’t want to gain weight when they were put on a JAK inhibitor compared to the myelofibrosis patients who maybe had lost a lot of weight before being on a JAK inhibitor.  

There are certainly higher risk probably of developing infections with some of the JAK inhibitors. And we see, for example, shingles reactivation being a common one. And there’s the concern of development of skin cancers, which has been seen with some JAK inhibitors. But generally speaking, long-term use seems to be safe. That being said, ruxolitinib, which is the oldest one to be approved, has only been around since 2011, so we don’t have decades worth of experience to know.   

When JAK inhibitors stop working – to answer the second part of your question – until fairly recently we really didn’t have a whole lot to offer because there was only one JAK inhibitor. Now we have two others. We have fedratinib and also pacritinib. And we know from the studies that have been done with both of these agents that some patients that lose response to Jakafi, meaning that their spleen starts to grow or their symptoms start to come back, can be treated with these other JAK inhibitors.   

And many patients will, again, have control of their spleen and symptoms. Now losing response to a JAK inhibitor can come in many different ways. And so, some patients may also develop signs of having leukemia or progression of their disease to leukemia. And, unfortunately, for those patients, being on another JAK inhibitor doesn’t make sense. So, those patients may need to receive other types of medications or a stem cell transplant.   

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Gary has two questions for you. The first is, “How useful is having a genetic panel done? Should all patients get molecular or genetic testing?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. And I think that it is very important to have genetic testing.  

And genetic testing involves more than just testing the JAK2 mutation. So, we know that the JAK2 mutation is the most common mutation in patients with MPN. But that being said, there are other mutations that also occur such as the calreticulin mutation and the MPL mutation. And so, I think having genetic testing that at least tests for those three mutations is very important so that we can actually help a patient know that they have an MPN. In addition to those three main mutations, many clinicians now have access to what’s called extended next-generation sequencing, where there’s a panel that tests for many different genes at the same time and can test for a variety of other mutations.  

And this is particularly relevant for patients with myelofibrosis. As we know that having other mutations, like, for example, mutations in IDH or ASXL1 and others, can increase the risk of that disease in terms of its risk of transforming to leukemia or how long a patient may live with their myelofibrosis. 

And so, I do recommend having extended next-generation sequencing done at least at diagnosis.  

When I generally think about repeating that, if there’s something that looks like it’s changing within the patient’s disease, to be honest, also on the flipside of that argument, sometimes this next-generation sequencing will mostly contribute to adding anxiety and will not necessarily directly impact how a patient is treated. And this is particularly true in patients with PV and ET, where we’ll sometimes order these tests, and we get a bunch of mutations back, but we don’t know what to do with that information yet.   

And so, as a researcher – not a clinician – as a researcher, I think it’s very important to have that information so that we can then do studies and understand the patterns of mutations and how that affects outcome. But as a clinician, and you as a patient, you need to really be aware of how that’s going to impact the patient in front of you and how that may impact you as a patient. Do you want to know if you have these mutations if nothing can be done about it? So, I would say, take a moment to reflect upon what I said and also to ask your clinician, how is this information going to help me? Do I need to have this information?  

Maybe you want to have it done so that it’s in your record. But maybe you don’t necessarily want to know those results. And everybody’s very different. And I think it’s absolutely wonderful to talk to my patients about all the information. But there may be some patients that really are just, like, do the test but don’t tell me the results, because I know that I’m just going to be very anxious knowing that I have something that I can’t do anything about. So, just take a minute to talk about it with your doctors. I think that’s really important.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Here’s Gary’s second question. “Is allele burden a key predictor of progression?” And before you answer that, Dr. Hobbs, what does “allele burden” mean, and how does it impact progression? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great questions. And I hope that in the next couple years I have a much better answer for you. So, maybe I’ll come back again and maybe we can talk about this again. So, allele burden – just simply put – is basically, like, how many of the stem cells in your bone marrow have that JAK2 mutation. And that’s a concept that’s not obvious. So, not all of a patient’s blood with an MPN has that JAK2 mutation. There are some stem cells that have the JAK2 mutation and produce JAK2-mutated blood. And then there are some stem cells that are normal that just make normal blood and don’t have a JAK2 mutation.  

And so, we can measure, what is a proportion of cells in the blood that has that JAK2 mutation? Now the next question should be very obvious and straightforward. But it really is not. So, what do we do with allele burden, and how do we measure that, and what does it mean if the allele burden goes up or it goes down? At this moment, we don’t necessarily know that. There have been some studies showing that maybe higher JAK2 mutation burden is maybe associated with progression or more with PV as opposed to ET.  

And we’d all like to think that lowering that JAK2 mutation level or that JAK2 allele burden has to be good and maybe will decrease progression or improve survival. We haven’t seen that yet. And so, I think we’re all really waiting to see, what does it mean to lower that JAK2 allele burden? And then how often should we be measuring that? But right now we really don’t know.  

Katherine:

Yeah. One more question for you. This one from Joseph. “I have PV and had adverse side effects from peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys). Is it likely that similar side effects would be experienced with Besremi?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Good question. It’s hard to know. And it really depends on the severity of the side effects that you had and the type of side effect that you had. In my experience, ropeginterferon or Besremii is very well-tolerated compared to the other interferons that were available. But if you really had a severe side effect it may be difficult to consider trying it. But it’s worth considering it. I’ve definitely had patients that have gone from Pegasys to ropeginterferon without any difficulty. But just because you had a bad side effect to one doesn’t mean that you’ll have a bad side effect to the other.  

Katherine:

This is from Paul who lives in the United Kingdom. “How important is it to see an MPN specialist rather than a general hematologist? Right now I’m currently seeing a general hematologist who makes a note of my side effects but offers no coping strategies or solutions.” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. That is a great question. And one with not one answer. I would say that if you’re an MPN patient and you have a clinician that treats you that feels comfortable treating you or you feel heard and you’re being offered different ways of dealing with symptoms or side effects, etc., then perhaps you don’t have to go out of your way to find an MPN clinician. And participating in webinars like this or learning online may be sufficient to know how to advocate for yourself and how to monitor your disease. That being said, I do think that it’s nice for patients to at least have a one-time opinion with a specialist.  

And I would say that with the advent of virtual care, that has become increasingly more accessible. And so, if that’s something that’s available to you, that’s something you should consider. You know. Sometimes it’s very difficult to travel a long distance to meet with a specialist. But if you can avoid the travel by having a virtual visit, that often times can be very helpful in just knowing that you’ve met with somebody once. And then you can meet with that person periodically throughout your care can be very helpful. And I’ll tell you personally I see patients in the neighboring states to where I live.  

And I like to see those patients periodically or communicate with their local providers. And so, it just helps to offer care that’s very specialized in maybe areas of the country that don’t necessarily have access to specialized care. So, I would encourage patients to seek that out if that’s something that they’re interested in because it’s really become, I think, easier to access the specialists.  

Katherine:

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. And viewers please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org. Before we end the program, Dr. Hobbs, I’d like to hear why you’re hopeful about the future MPN care.   

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you so much. Those are great questions. I feel very hopeful about the future of MPN. As we mentioned at the beginning of this webinar, the scientific community and the MPN community of clinicians and investigators, it’s such a nice example of how scientists can work together to improve the care of patients. That I always feel very inspired by my colleagues. And now that ASH is around the corner, I can tell you that I feel very hopeful for the future of MPNs because I know that we’re going to learn about a variety of different clinical trials that are showing promising results that are going to ultimately impact the way that we are able to treat our patients with MPN.   

And lastly, I feel very hopeful for the future of MPN because I know that the MPN community is very active. Patients participate in webinars like this, belong to different online groups, and are excellent advocates for themselves. I’ve seen firsthand in my clinic how when a drug gets approved, patients learn about new treatments online and come and ask for them. And so, I just feel very honored to be a clinician that is able to treat a group of patients that can advocate so well for themselves. And so, I definitely see lots of changes in the next couple years.  

Katherine:

This is from Paul who lives in the United Kingdom. “How important is it to see an MPN specialist rather than a general hematologist? Right now I’m currently seeing a general hematologist who makes a note of my side effects but offers no coping strategies or solutions.” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. That is a great question. And one with not one answer. I would say that if you’re an MPN patient and you have a clinician that treats you that feels comfortable treating you or you feel heard and you’re being offered different ways of dealing with symptoms or side effects, etc., then perhaps you don’t have to go out of your way to find an MPN clinician. And participating in webinars like this or learning online may be sufficient to know how to advocate for yourself and how to monitor your disease. That being said, I do think that it’s nice for patients to at least have a one-time opinion with a specialist.  

And I would say that with the advent of virtual care, that has become increasingly more accessible. And so, if that’s something that’s available to you, that’s something you should consider. You know. Sometimes it’s very difficult to travel a long distance to meet with a specialist. But if you can avoid the travel by having a virtual visit, that often times can be very helpful in just knowing that you’ve met with somebody once. And then you can meet with that person periodically throughout your care can be very helpful. And I’ll tell you personally I see patients in the neighboring states to where I live.  

And I like to see those patients periodically or communicate with their local providers. And so, it just helps to offer care that’s very specialized in maybe areas of the country that don’t necessarily have access to specialized care. So, I would encourage patients to seek that out if that’s something that they’re interested in because it’s really become, I think, easier to access the specialists.   

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Dr. Hobbs, thank you so much for joining us today.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you so much for having me.  

Katherine:

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

Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right for You

Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right for You  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Appropriate and effective treatment is an essential part of thriving with an MPN. Dr. Joseph Scandura reviews the goals of MPN treatment and factors that should be considered when choosing a therapy.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

One part of thriving with an MPN is finding a treatment approach that manages your disease, the symptoms of your MPN, and that fits with your lifestyle. So, what are the factors that are considered when choosing treatment for patients with ET, PV, and MF?  

Dr. Scandura:

Certainly, the goals of the therapy. So, is the therapy one that I would be looking to maybe delay progression or for long-term potential benefits, or is it something I need now to control short-term risks such as blood clots? The goals of the patient because some therapies may be more suitable to the goals of one patient than another.  

And the other – you know, there’s clinical features that may kind of push towards one approach versus another. Certainly, in a 20-year-old patient, I’m thinking about fertility. I’m thinking about a normal life expectancy. In a 90-year-old patient, I have a different set of concerns, multiple medications – what am I going to do that might be affecting their other comorbid conditions? 

Katherine:

Right. Right. 

Dr. Scandura:

I think about what are my near-term and long-term goals? So, obviously, age becomes a factor there. If I’m 95 years old, no matter what I do that person is not going to live 20 years. If that person’s 20 years old and they’re not living 30, 40, 50, 60 years, that’s a real shame. That’s a huge loss of life. So, that helps kind of point me in one direction or another.  

And, then, there’s different types of therapy. There are injectable agents. There are pills. There are drugs that have been used for a long time but don’t really have an FDA approval. There are drugs that are approved for certain indications.  

And, as physicians, we can sometimes stretch that based upon clinical judgment. So, I think a lot of that goes into the discussion I have with patients about therapy.

And that’s always – you know, I present to them what the options are, what I think the benefits might be, what the potential toxicities are, and then we discuss. 

Is There MPN Research Underway to Help Understand Progression?

Is There MPN Research Underway to Help Understand Progression? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How and why do MPNs progress? MPN specialist Dr. Joseph Scandura shares an update on research being done to better understand–and possibly prevent–disease progression.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

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Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Is there research being done on MPN progression to understand how it happens or even prevent or slow progression? 

Dr. Scandura:

Yeah. There’s a lot. I think there is a – from both the sort of basic laboratory using animal models to try to understand what are the kind of systems that are involved in how these diseases change. What genes are involved? How do they talk to each other? You know, these are not cells that live in a vacuum, right? They live in a special microenvironment. What are the signals that crosstalk between the MPN cells, the MPN stem cells, and their microenvironment?  

And so, there’s a lot of research on that and the basic side of things. In humans, there’s a lot that has been done over the years in terms of trying to understand what are some of the genetic features of progression. And I think we’re beginning to get a little bit of a better understand of what are the non-genetic things that are associated with progression.  

I was part of an effort from the MPN Research Foundation and still am.  

They have what they call the Progression Network, where they tried to put together a number of investigators from really across the world to share ideas about the nature of progression and how we might look at studying this and understanding ways to prevent progression.  

I think we do have some drugs now that show some promise in terms of being able to prevent progression. I think interferons have shown this in polycythemia vera in terms of a promise for improved long-term outcomes and delayed risk progression. I think that the gold standard randomized trials are maturing and are sort of bearing out some of the same findings that have been observed retrospectively, so sort of kind of looking back in time.  

But the difficulty is that it can take a long time for patients to progress. And you say, “Oh, that’s great.” And that is great. But, from a research – from a statistical side, it means things are really slow. If you have to wait 15 years to assess whether or not people progressed less in one treatment versus another, it’s really slow going. And so, we have to do a compromise of what’s – you know, what do animal studies say? What does retrospective analysis, when we might have people who started treatment 30 years ago, and now we’re just seeing how did it all work out? It’s not a perfect study, because biases can creep in, but it’s what we have now. And so, there’s a lot. And I think, increasingly, progression is being recognized as a goal of therapy, to prevent progression.   

Personally, it is one of my major goals, because I think we do a pretty good job at preventing clots with available treatments. But I don’t think we do a very good job at preventing progression, mostly, because we don’t exactly understand what’s driving that. And so, I think until we develop that deeper understanding and really invest the time and effort in terms of learning which approaches can help prevent progression, we’re going to continue to have these questions.  

How Clinical Trials Advance MPN Treatment and Research

How Clinical Trials Advance MPN Treatment and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert Dr. Angela Fleischman provides a deeper understanding of how clinical trials advance myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) research and treatment, explains safety protocols in place for trials, and addresses common misconceptions associated with clinical trial participation. Dr. Fleischman also shares an update on emerging MPN research.

Dr. Angela Fleischman is a physician scientist and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine. Learn more about Dr. Fleischman.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how clinical trials advance research for myeloproliferative neoplasms, or MPNs, and we’ll talk about what MPN patients should know about participation. 

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. Angela Fleischman. Dr. Fleischman, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Fleischman:

Thank you very much for the invitation. Hi, everyone. My name is Angela Fleischman. I’m what’s called a physician scientist, meaning, I do research as well as see patients, and my focus for my entire career thus far has been on myeloproliferative neoplasms, specifically their role of inflammation in MPN. And I am at the University of California, Irvine in Southern California. So, nice to be here today. 

Katherine:

Well, thank you so much for joining us and taking the time. Before we get into the discussion about clinical trials, because you’re so heavily involved in research, let’s talk about the latest developments in the field. What MPN clinical trials are you excited about right now? 

Dr. Fleischman:

So, I would say, there’s a lot of new clinical trials in the field for myelofibrosis, which is the most severe form of myeloproliferative neoplasm. 

There tend to be more clinical trials because that’s a patient population in – I don’t want to say in more need, but they do have more need in terms of necessitating better treatments. 

Drugs that are quite far along in clinical trials – and in order for a drug to make it to market, one needs to go through multiple clinical trials to demonstrate the safety, as well as efficacy. Things like a BET inhibitor are very, very promising in moving forward in clinical trials. Other medications for other diseases, such as polycythemia vera, not anymore in clinical trials, but excitingly, newly FDA-approved, was ropeginterferon for polycythemia vera. 

So, that’s a real exciting development for Polycythemia Vera patients. 

And now, we have – outside of the context of clinical trials, because I want to talk about what’s actually available to patients now, we now have three JAK inhibitors available for myelofibrosis patients. And really, since 2011, we had only had one, and then, more recently, a second JAK inhibitor, but now, we have three. So, now we’re moving into an era where we can tailor a specific JAK inhibitor for a specific myelofibrosis patient, depending on what their particular needs are. So, I think that that’s very promising. And then, there are lots of clinical trials combining JAK inhibitors with new drugs. 

Katherine:

So, how does it work? How do clinical trials advance MPN research and treatment? 

Dr. Fleischman:

Well, there are multiple stages of clinical trials. One needs to have some rationale for testing a specific drug in patients. You just can’t say, I just want to take something off the shelf and see if it works for myeloproliferative neoplasms. 

There could be different ways that things sort of enter into clinical trials, either preclinical data from in vitro, meaning, in the lab, in the liquid media, with cells, that makes somebody think that it might work in humans, or that it works in a similar disease to myeloproliferative neoplasm. So, it’s a little bit of a stretch, but a very rational stretch, to then test it in a new population. 

First and foremost, safety needs to be evaluated, because as physicians, one of our primary objectives is to do no harm to patients. So, at very early stages of clinical trials, the primary objective is to see what the appropriate doses, what’s tolerated, what the side effect profile is. 

And then, moving on to efficacy. So, maybe it’s tolerated, but does it actually work at the next stage of clinical trials. Then, a much larger clinical trial would be to do a head-to-head comparison between, in most cases, standard of care versus drug X. 

And I think, for clinical trials, in particular, for myeloproliferative neoplasm, it’s very important to understand what the stated, primary end point is, in particular, for myelofibrosis patients, that myelofibrosis patients may have different problems. Some myelofibrosis patients, their primary issue may be anemia. And so, if they’re looking for a clinical trial to address their anemia, they would probably want to be looking for one whose primary end point is transfusion, freedom from transfusions, or improving the anemia, not necessarily – there was another trial that’s primarily looked at spleen reduction, but they didn’t have an enlarged spleen, that, necessarily, wouldn’t be appropriate for the patient. 

So, I think it is particularly important in myeloproliferative neoplasm to identify what the primary end point is, and whether what you’re going for is that primary end point. 

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Any advances that are being done in MPN research require MPN patients to participate in clinical trials, right? 

Dr. Fleischman:

Of course. 

Katherine:

So, to start, let’s talk about where clinical trials fit into the treatment plan for ET, PV, and MF patients. When should a patient consider participating in a clinical trial? 

Dr. Fleischman:

Okay, well, I guess a patient could really consider participating in a clinical trial at any point if they had a very altruistic philosophy, that understanding that their participation may not necessarily help them at this moment in time, but may help others in the future, and we’ll gain knowledge about myeloproliferative neoplasms. 

That’s one approach. 

Another approach, which is probably a more usual approach, is when a patient has already tried standard therapies and they haven’t quite worked for them, or they’re in a class where, maybe, we don’t have really great standard therapies for somebody. 

For example, a myelofibrosis who may not be doing too well and may not necessarily be a candidate for a transplant, I think that’s a very reasonable population to go out and seek clinical trials, because there’s really not necessarily a great standard of care treatments for that patient population, or ET or PV patients who have tried standard of care and, maybe, can’t tolerate standard medications, or they’re just not working for them. 

But really, anytime somebody can do a clinical trial, if that’s what they feel is important to them.  

Katherine:

What are the benefits and risks of a trial participation? 

Dr. Fleischman:

So, the benefits are that you’re getting a drug that, potentially, is better than standard of care, that could be standard of care five to 10 years from now, but you’re getting it early.  

As investigators, ethically, we can’t start a clinical trial if we believe that the drug that we’re testing might have negative side effects on the patient, or maybe worse than standard of care. I mean, ethically, that’s not appropriate. So, ethically, we believe that what we’re testing may be better than what we’re currently giving patients, but we don’t know that. So, that’s the purpose of a clinical trial. 

So, a clinical trial, it’s a new drug. So, could have side effects that are on unanticipated, including death. I mean, that’s just the reality. That would be a very uncommon scenario, but it’s an unknown, so it’s an unknown. 

Other things that I think are very important to discuss are the financial implications of a clinical trial. On the pros, one could be getting a free drug that is outside of standard of care, and many of the tests that are done for the purposes of the research are covered. However, drugs, say, if it’s a combination drug, standard of care plus a new drug, the standard of care drug is usually billed to insurance. And so, the patient would need to pay for that, or if there are studies that would be considered standard of care, the patient would need to cover them. 

So, I think it, really, is important to discuss the financial implications. What money is it going to save you by participating, and may there be extra costs, or hidden costs, potentially, involved by participating? 

Katherine:

Yeah. Let’s talk about safety in clinical trials. Would you review the safety protocols that are in place before a clinical trial even begins? 

Dr. Fleischman:

So, before a clinical trial begins, there, usually, needs to be safety information in animals. Also, a lot of drugs have been tried in other diseases first. Either, they’re, have been studied in clinical trials and maybe not found to be very efficacious, but at least we have the value of the safety data in another population. 

So, we’re entering, again, into clinical trials with the understanding that it would not be harmful to humans with the data that we have available in animals, or in liquid culture. But again, we just don’t know that. And then, also, for many clinical trials, starting off at lower doses, and then, increasing the dose slowly in different cohorts of patients, to see what’s the maximally tolerated dose. 

As well as, when somebody is on a clinical trial, safety and side effects are very closely monitored, and even small side effects that likely have nothing to do with the drug, really do need to be investigated fully, just to make sure that they’re not related to the drug. 

Katherine:

Yeah. How do you know if the medicine is safe prior to starting a human trial? 

Dr. Fleischman:

That’s a great question. 

Based on what the molecule looks like, as well as, many times, they’ve been tested in animals to see – for example, for myeloproliferative neoplasm, it would be important to know, does it change a healthy rat’s blood count? Does it harm their liver? Those sorts of things, and safety information is usually available for a new drug. 

Katherine:

Are patients monitored more closely when they’re in a trial? 

Dr. Fleischman:

Yes, definitely. And for the purposes, mainly, of paying very close attention to even small side effects that, if somebody was not watched closely, may be missed because they’re so subtle. 

Katherine:

What if a patient decides to leave a trial? Does that negatively impact their care? 

Dr. Fleischman:

No, and I think that’s a very important point, that, ethically, as investigators, we cannot – and we do need to make it a point to communicate this fully with the patient, that when we’re asking the patient, or informing them about a potential clinical trial, we need to inform them that whether or not they participate will have nothing to do with the way that we treat them. We will treat them equally, regardless of whether or not they participate, as well as, anytime during the clinical trial, a patient has the absolute right, for whatever reason, they can decide to leave the clinical trial. That’s the most – I don’t say that’s the law, but those are the rules of clinical trials, as well as, a patient cannot be treated differently if they decide to leave a clinical trial.  

We have to be fair. I mean, this is – you have to be fair to all patients, and all patients deserve excellent treatment, regardless of whether they participate in the clinical trial. 

Katherine:

Dr. Fleischman, we’ve been talking about what happens when people participate in trials. But what if they don’t? Why is it crucial that patients participate in trials? 

Dr. Fleischman:

Because without participation in clinical trials, we are not going to further our understanding of myeloproliferative neoplasm. Many of the drugs that we use today in myeloproliferative neoplasms, as well as other diseases, the reason why we use them today is because people 10, 20 years ago participated in the clinical trial and demonstrated a benefit of these medications. So, people don’t participate, we’re not going to have new drugs for myeloproliferative neoplasms.  

Katherine:

All right. We know that much of the reason that people don’t participate is because of various stigma associated with clinical trials, and I’d like to talk about that with you. 

Let’s start with the word “experiment.” Why does this word not pertain to clinical trials? 

Dr. Fleischman:

So, I think the word “experiment” may have a negative connotation, and making the patient think, maybe they’ll say, a guinea pig. The only way that we can identify whether a drug is going to be beneficial is to test it out in humans with a particular disease. 

So, I mean, on one hand, it is an experiment, because we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re doing the experiment for the benefit of people who are suffering from the same disease. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good explanation. What would you tell patients who are worried that they will receive a placebo? 

Dr. Fleischman:

So, that is part of a clinical trial, and it is also important to look how your clinical trial that you’re interested in is structured.  

So, some clinical trials do receive, or split into placebo, or active drug, and double-blinded means that the patient doesn’t know, nor the physician knows. So, no one knows, and that’s important because we don’t want to sway any subconscious things that, if you know you’re getting the drugs, then you’re going to say your symptoms are getting better, things like that. 

Again, ethically, in a clinical trial, we cannot not give somebody treatment that they – we can’t keep treatment from somebody. So, for example, if a person with polycythemia vera was a, per guidelines, should be on a cytoreductive agent, we cannot, ethically, treat them without a cytoreductive agent. So, it would be – they would have standard of care plus placebo, or drug X. 

So, maybe I’m not explaining this correctly, but if a placebo study is done, the placebo can’t take the place of something that we know is good for the patient. 

We can’t leave them hanging without any treatment, unless, for their specific situation, there’s not, necessarily, a known standard treatment, that it would be very reasonable to treat them with nothing.  

Katherine:

Another myth we often hear is that trials should only be considered if you have no other options. Why is that false? 

Dr. Fleischman:

I think there is a place for patients with no other options that – they may be more inclined to participate in, I want to say, higher risk studies, in which there’s less data to support a particular medication. But that’s why we look at these drugs in patients with no other options, because there’s no other reasonable thing to give them. 

But the patients with no other options may not be an accurate representation of the patient population, as a whole. So, it is important for people who may have other options, but maybe they want to think about, well, I do have a standard option, but maybe there’s something better out there for me, to participate in clinical trials. 

Katherine:

What if an MPN trial isn’t offered at the center where a patient receives care? What can they do?  

Dr. Fleischman:

Many times, specific clinical trials are only open at specific universities. And so, it’s very likely that your university, or the place where you receive care, may have a few clinical trials, or maybe one, or maybe zero for MPNs, but may not necessarily fit your exact circumstances. 

So, what I would recommend is, doing searching on your own, either through clinicaltrials.gov, or the MPN Research Foundation also has some nice resources, but doing some research on your own to identify some potential clinical trials that you’re interested in, and then go to your primary oncologist and say, “Hey, I printed these out. I think these might look really interesting to me.” 

And usually, on clinicaltrials.gov, they would have where they are, and you can actually, also, search for your state. So, maybe bring some that are close to you, and discuss with your primary oncologist the pros and cons of them. And then, ask your primary oncologist to make a referral to the location where they offer that specific trial. 

And a lot of times, you can – there’s a phone number you can call and be pre-screened. Say, “Hi, I’m a 55-year-old man with myelofibrosis,” and there are specific inclusion, exclusion, criteria that they can ask you. And if you don’t meet the inclusion criteria, then it’s not worth your time to go and have an actual visit, but if you do meet the inclusion criteria, then you could go and have an actual visit, and learn a little bit more.  

Katherine:

Oh, that’s great information. Thank you. Here’s a question we received from an audience member, prior to the program. Susan wants to know, “How can I get my community oncologist on board with trial participation? I’m interested in participating in a clinical trial that’s based in Chicago, and I’ll need her help in coordinating care with the team from a distance. Any advice for how to talk to my local doctor about that?”  

Dr. Fleischman:

So, that may be a tough one. So, many times, if somebody has to travel for a clinical trial, it does require some coordination. There are specific – and it’s clinical trial specific. There may be specific things that actually need to be done at the study site. For example, specific labs that would be drawn, and say, need to be frozen within two hours, or specific tests, for example, MRIs, if you need to look at the spleen size, you would need to do it on the same machine for everyone. 

So, there are specific things that have to be done at the location, or if it’s written to the protocol, you have to come to the location for a physical exam on this day and this day, and if it’s not within a two-to-three-day window, then there’s a deviation, and the data is not valid. 

So, what I would say is – sorry, this is a long answer here, but where certain things, if they’re written in the protocol that say a CBC could be drawn at any institution at week four, then that would be reasonable to have your primary oncologist do. But in the context of clinical trials, certain things are really set in stone as to the exact dates that needs to be done, and the exact location. And if they’re not done exactly, to a tee, then your data will not be – your data cannot be used for the analysis. 

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. But then, there’s also the issue of patients being willing and able to travel a distance to a teaching university where a clinical trial might be happening.  

Dr. Fleischman:

Correct, yes. And I think that, for some clinical trials, when the protocol is made, understanding that trying to minimize the trips to the actual site, and working the protocols, working some sort of wiggle room in the protocol, such that lots of stuff, or hopefully, lots of stuff, can be done remotely. But sometimes, it’s just not possible.  

Katherine:

Yeah. I’d like to turn our conversation to health disparities, Dr. Fleischman. Based on American history, some people believe that they won’t receive equitable or safe care if they participate in a trial. 

How can you reassure those people who are concerned they’ll be treated fairly? 

Dr. Fleischman:

Now, I think that this is a very important point, and something that there’s been a lot of emphasis, to try to improve diversity in clinical trials, because our American population is quite diverse. However, the participants that, in general, participate in clinical trials are, unfortunately, still have not a very diverse population in our clinical trials. 

I think what we need to first start doing is education, to reach out to underrepresented communities, to start to build the trust amongst these communities, to tell them about the value of clinical trials. And I think it’s going to take some time to build trust first, because it does take quite a bit of trust to participate in the clinical trial. 

But I don’t have a great answer for that, other than, we need to work hard to, first, build trust, and then, I think the diversity will come. 

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. How does holding on to some of these beliefs lead to limitations in care and create disparities? 

Dr. Fleischman:

So, and rightfully so, if a patient is scared, or has some reservations of participating in a clinical trial, they may – that’s offered to them, that they provide them with, potentially, something better than standard of care. They may be missing out on a potential opportunity. 

Also, potentially, if a patient, if they’re asked about a clinical trial and they have a negative connotation about them, they may lose trust with their physician, if they say, oh, my physician is asking me to participate in a clinical trial. 

This means that they’re thinking of me as an experiment, and maybe they’re not really thinking of me as patient. And so, they may not have that trust with their physician, and so, may not be as open, in terms of communication, with their physician.  

I think it all boils down to trust, and as physicians, we need to demonstrate that we are worthy of the patient’s trust, and we really are ingrained in us to treat every patient the same. I mean, that’s what our oath is. That’s what we’re supposed to do, and I think that the vast majority of patients, they have, ethically, are treating patients exactly the same, regardless of their circumstances. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Health equity means that no matter what a patient’s circumstances, whether it be race, income issues, lack of education, that they should have access to the best care. What is being done by the medical community to address this issue? 

Dr. Fleischman:

So, yes, this is a significant issue, and in particular, with myeloproliferative neoplasms, in whom there are lots of oral drugs – or with interferons, it’s injectable, but you get the prescription, and you give it to yourself – that there can be quite high copays, in some cases, exorbitant amounts, which, really, are not able to be paid for by the vast majority of people. 

So, many companies do have copay assistance programs. Also, foundations have copay assistance programs. So, I think that is, at least, one step in trying to make things more equitable, to get people who need a drug, their drug, at a very reasonable cost. Again, it does take some time, some legwork on the part of the patient, to seek out these programs, or to find an advocate for themselves to seek out these programs for them. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Would a healthcare team be part of that process, though? Would they be able to help the patient? 

Dr. Fleischman:

They will be able to help the patient in terms of saying, “Hey, there’s this program for this drug. Why don’t we fill out the form together?” Or, “Why don’t you call this,” you know. Many times, the patient needs to initiate the process. So, I think the healthcare team can sort of guide the patient in saying, this is what’s available, we can help. We can fill out our portion of the form, you fill out your portion of the form. But no, it does need to be – the patient needs to be an active participant in seeking out the support. 

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Before we end the program, Dr. Fleischman, I’d like to close with some advice from you. What do you want to leave MPN patients with, relating to clinical trial participation? 

Dr. Fleischman:

I would say that MPN patients today are the key to our future treatments. 

Without participation in clinical trials today, there’s going to be no new drugs for myeloproliferative neoplasms. They’re just not going to appear. We need to test them in patients before them actually coming to market, and before really knowing whether they work or not. So, I would say that the MPN patients today are the key to the future of MPN treatments.  

Katherine:

Dr. Fleischman, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Dr. Fleischman:

My pleasure. As always, I really enjoy connecting with MPN patients, and I think this was a very important topic to discuss.  

Katherine:

Yeah. And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about MPNs, and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today. 

Expert Perspective: Why Myeloma Patients Should Weigh in on Their Care Decisions

Expert Perspective: Why Myeloma Patients Should Weigh in on Their Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Abdullah Khan shares key advice encouraging patients to participate in care and treatment decisions and discusses the importance of communicating symptoms and side effects to your healthcare team.

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 Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s turn to decision-making, Dr. Khan. What is the role of the myeloma patient when making care and treatment decisions?  

Dr. Khan:

As a provider, my role is to inform the patient of the facts and the need for a decision. The purpose of the discussions is to determine the patient’s goals and preferences, because it’s essential the patient’s values of respected. The best outcomes occur when the medical facts align with the patient’s preferences. And this is a multi-disciplinary team approach.  

Katherine:

Why is it so important for patients to share any symptoms and side effects they’re having with their healthcare team?   

Dr. Khan:

I read something recently on an NIH website titled “What Do I Need To Tell the Doctor?” that I think answers this question well. And I’m quoting the article. “Talking about your health means sharing information about how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. Knowing how to describe your symptoms and bringing up other concerns will help you become a partner in your healthcare.”  

I think I really like that end, “partner in your healthcare.” The patient’s symptoms and suggest disease or disorder in the body. If there are concerns, this may prompt a clinic visit or the patient may be advised to go to the closest ER or urgent care depending on the urgency of the situation. But in other cases, the healthcare team may help provide reassurance that the symptom can be continued to be monitored more resolution, or it can be evaluated in more detail if it persists or worsens.  

Katherine:

What about side effects? Why is that important for patients to share any side effects they may be having?  

Dr. Khan:

Side effects may be a result of the disease itself. It might be a marker of the side effects from the treatment. Or I’m focused on the multiple myeloma, but there’s every other organ system in the body that also needs help. So, the myeloma might be doing okay. The treatment might be doing okay. But, for example, we might have a lung toxicity from their pre-existing COPD or a heart toxicity from their pre-existing coronary artery disease. So, it’s very important to share all symptoms So, we can see how to properly assess it.   

Katherine:

And better care for the patient.  

Dr. Khan:

Right.  

Expert Perspective: Advances in Treating Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma

Expert Perspective: Advances in Treating Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan, of Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James, reviews currently available treatments as well as those in development for patients with relapsed or refractory 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 Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

 

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Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined

Transcript:

Katherine:

Are there any recent advances in treatment for patients with relapsed or refractory disease?  

Dr. Khan:

Currently and in the past 20 years or so, we’ve seen about 20 approvals for new drugs for patients with multiple myeloma. The way the approval process works it typically looks at the effectiveness of a drug in the relapsed refractory setting first. And after establishing the safety and efficacy, the therapies are moved earlier in the disease course.   

The great example of this are the anti-CD38 monoclonal antibodies daratumumab and isatuximab. They were first approved in the relapsed refractory setting in combination with other antimyeloma treatments. And due to their impressive effectiveness and relative safety, they’re already being used in the frontline setting for patients with newly diagnosed multiple myeloma.   

In the newly diagnosed setting, a commonly cited study is the phase two GRIFFIN trial. And that added daratumumab to the BRd, or bendamustine (Bendeka, Treanda), lenalidomide (Revlimid), dexamethasone backbone.  

And Europe, they completed the phase three study of adding isatuximab, the other anti-CD38 monoclonal antibody to the BRd backbone. And what we’re finding what was very effective in the relapsed refractory setting was actually adding to the efficacy of newly diagnosed treatment regiments. As a side note, these trials – there are also trials looking at daratumumab and isatuximab in the smoldering myeloma phase, so moving it even earlier.  

I think one of the most attractive new targets in myeloma is targeting this antigen called B-cell maturing antigen, and a number of therapies are being developed or are already developed for it. The first approved was belantamab mafodotin, and this is an antibody drug conjugate. 

So, when the antibody binds to BCMA on the multiple myeloma cells, it releases its toxic payload into the myeloma cell. And so, it’s very effective towards myeloma, and no other good cells or fewer other good cells are affected by it. To provide some numbers, in patients with a median of seven prior lines of treatments, meaning their myeloma had relapsed that many times, the response rate was about 30 percent. And a fifth of those patients had VGPR, very good partial response, or better response.  

There are also bispecific antibodies that target this myeloma marker, and we anticipate getting one approved soon in the U.S. called teclistamab. Teclistamab is an antibody that binds both CD3 on T cells of the immune system and B-cell maturating BCMA on the myeloma cells. 

So, the way this antibody kills myeloma is by activating the T cells, the immune system, and directly killing the tumor. So, this was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And in people who were treated with at least five prior lines of therapy, the response rate was about 63 percent, and the median progression-free survival, or the time until the myeloma progressed, was about 11 months.  

We were very active in a clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of another antibody, a bispecific antibody, called Regeneron 5458. In a similar patient population, the response rates were 75 percent in the higher-dose level group, and right now it’s actually a bit too early to tell how long the progression free survival is or the duration of response. 

There are also other bispecifics in development targeting other myeloma markers ssuch as talquetamab, that binds to a marker called GPRC5D, and cevostamab, which binds to a marker called FcRH5. The response rates as single agents in patients with relapsed refractory multiple myeloma are 66 percent and 45 percent respectively. These are all incredible numbers for a single drug in the relapsed refractory setting.  

How Does Disease Staging Affect Myeloma Treatment Choices?

How Does Disease Staging Affect Myeloma Treatment Choices? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the stages of myeloma, and how does this affect care? Dr. Abdullah Khan, a myeloma specialist, reviews how myeloma is staged, which genetic markers may affect risk, and the impact of staging on treatment decisions.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

How does staging affect treatment option?  

Dr. Khan:

Staging is done by two methods. The older method is the international staging system, abbreviated as ISS. And then there’s the newer revised ISS, or RISS. 

The patients are assigned stages one to three. To determine the ISS you need lab values for the beta-2 microglobulin and albumin. For the revised ISS, you add on the lab value for LDH, lactate dehydrogenase, and you also add in the chromosome risk profile. So, there are certain genetic changes that predict a more aggressive myeloma. And the ones added to the revised ISS staging system are translocation 4;14, translocation 14;16, and deletion 17p.  

So, that’s the ISS stage and the revised ISS stage. There are also other factors patient providers look into when determining the risk profile for patients. So, that might include other genetic changes. 

One that is gaining a bit more traction right now is something called gain 1q, or amplification 1q, so more than one copy of part a chromosome. Some patients might have myeloma that doesn’t start, and the bone marrow might be found outside of the bones. And that’s called extramedullary disease, and sometimes that’s kind of high-risk. And some people have so much bone marrow plasma cells that it actually spills into their bloodstream. So, they might have high circulating plasma cells. Anyway, this will give information on staging.  

And in terms of how it affects treatment option, I’ll give maybe two examples. Let’s say in case one we have a 40-year-old patient high-risk multiple myeloma. The high risk portends a poorer prognosis, meaning the outcomes might not be as good as someone with a standard myeloma. So, in that case, I might try to do or use the most aggressive treatment option in order to maximize treatment responses because I know the overall outcome is poor. 

I do all this while acknowledging maybe the chances of having side effects might be higher, but that might be an acceptable tradeoff.  

In case two, I’ll flip to an 80-year-old with standard risk cytogenetics.  

So, I predict their myeloma to behave standard. In this case, I might try to use a regimen with a more acceptable safety profile, because the predicted response to treatment is anyways very good. So, I don’t want to hurt them in the process of getting their myeloma in remission.  

I’ll also say this. My practice pattern at The Ohio State University might be a little different than someone on the East Coast or West Coast, and that’s okay. We all have our experiences with the different treatment regimens, but we all have the same goal of being as aggressive as we can while being mindful of side effects. 

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.

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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. 

Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing

Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is molecular testing, and how does it impact myeloma care? Dr. Abdullah Khan from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James discusses the specific markers found in cytogenetic analysis that determine a patient’s risk and may impact treatment choices.

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

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How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Have there been advances in molecular testing for myeloma patients?  

Dr. Khan:

Molecular testing is a broad term and can indicate checking genes, proteins, and other molecules. Even let’s say speaking outside of the world of myeloma, molecular testing can be used to determine in individuals if they have a high chance of developing cancers or other diseases.  

It can be done to confirm so cancer diagnoses using the tissue biopsy specimens. It can also be used to help plan treatment, find out how well the treatment is working, provide prognosis information, and other information. In the world of myeloma, there are – in the world of myeloma, there are researchers looking at all of these molecular changes that can happen with disease.  

Katherine:

So, how do the results of these tests affect treatment?  

Dr. Khan:

There’s a particular cytogenetic change called translocation 11;14 that’s found in maybe a quarter of all patients with newly diagnosed myeloma, and it predicts a high likelihood of responding to a new drug called venetoclax.  

In the clinical trial of venetoclax, when it was given to all patients with multiple myeloma, there was actually higher mortality in patients when given venetoclax in combination with bortezomib and dexamethasone. And this is despite a higher response rate by adding the venetoclax.  

The thought process was maybe those patients were not doing well because of higher chances of serious infections. But when they took the data and they looked at that subgroup of patients with the translocation 11;14, there was no such concern in that subgroup. So, in this case of having translocation 11;14, it actually giving you a new treatment option based on the findings of the molecular testing. 

We participate in a national clinical trial called MyDRUG, and that’s looking at other molecular changes to see if a more targeted treatment when added to the backbone of myeloma therapies translates to better outcomes.  

Another recent development in molecular testing is diagnostic testing for minimal residual disease, and that’s from the bone marrow in patients with multiple myeloma.  

The most commonly used test in clinical trials is the clonoSEQ test; it’s an FDA-cleared diagnostic test. The way it works it looks for specific DNA sequences on the receptors of the cancer cells. So, each cancer cell has like a genetic barcode.  

Using the liquid part of the marrow, we can look for those cells that harbor that genetic barcode. 

And the test is so sensitive, we can find one in a million cells in a patient’s bone marrow aspirate. So, it’s a very sensitive test, but it is not yet approved for making treatment decisions. One way we can use it though is for prognostic information. So, a patient attaining minimal residual disease-negative status or MRD-negativity, probably will do better than someone who has MRD-positive disease.  

And there’s an emerging concept called sustained MRD negativity. So, let’s take an example of someone getting MRD testing at one year and two years after their stem cell transplant. The patient who is MRD-negative at both the one-year and two-year marks will likely do better than the one who is MRD-negative at one year but turns positive at the two-year mark. 

So, these are some of the new developments in molecular testing in multiple myeloma.  

What Tests Are Essential Before Choosing a Myeloma Treatment Approach?

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

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

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

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How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What testing should take place before choosing a myeloma treatment?  

Dr. Khan:

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

Katherine:

Okay.  

Dr. Khan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

What do you mean by “burden”?   

Dr. Khan:

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

Katherine:

What additional testing should take place following a relapse?  

Dr. Khan:

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

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

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

Myeloma Expert Debunks Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions

Myeloma Expert Debunks Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan, a myeloma specialist, shares advice for individuals that may be hesitant to participate in a clinical trial, reviews the phases of trials, and explain the informed consent process.

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. Abdullah Khan.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What would you say to someone who’s hesitant in participating in a trial?  

Dr. Khan:

Well, the decision to participate is complex and personal, but the ultimate decision regarding trial participation rests with the patient. So, some of the reasons why patients might be hesitant, they might have distrust toward the medical community given the history of clinical trials in this country. If we take the example of the abuse of African American patients during the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, that’s just one example.  

Katherine:

Yeah.  

Dr. Khan:

Another reason patients might be hesitant is they don’t like the idea of being randomized to the treatment that they’re going to get. 

So, they might end up getting a placebo. They might get another standard of care. And they might not get that new, fancy drug. So, giving up that level of control does require some compromise. Another reason is the uncertainty of the potential side effects of the chemotherapy drugs, especially if you’re participating in an early-phase clinical trial.  

Furthermore, trials require very defined and frequent monitoring sometimes. So, some patients might not like the time commitment to a clinical trial. Another reason might be that there are concerns for cost. I can alleviate that concern by saying that typically there are mandates that the insurer cover the routine costs of clinical trials.  

Katherine:

You mentioned some misconceptions. Are there any others that patients might have about participating in a trial? 

Dr. Khan:

I guess the two most common things, the first one, and I think all providers have heard this, “I will be treated like a guinea pig.”  

Katherine:

Yeah.   

Dr. Khan:

For me, that is probably the furthest from the truth because of all the safeguards in place. Clinical trial participants are followed the most closely and probably get more medical attention than someone who is not on clinical trial. To participate in the clinical trial, the participant has to voluntarily – and that’s the keyword – sign an informed consent form. And finally, the participant can also leave the trial at any time for any reason.   

Another common misconception is that clinical trials of dangerous because they use untested drugs. There might be some truth to that. There are many phases to clinical trials. And in some early-phase clinical trials it is true that participant may actually be the first to ever get the new therapy. 

So, some of the outcomes are not known. But in late-phrase clinical trials, tens to thousands of patients may have already been treated with the study drug, so there a lot of preliminary safety data and also efficacy data.  

The Benefits of Participating in a Myeloma Clinical Trial

The Benefits of Participating in a Myeloma Clinical Trial from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Abdullah Khan discusses why myeloma patients should consider joining a clinical trial, addresses safety protocols for trials, and shares how participation in research advances medicine.

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. Abdullah Khan.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

I’d like to turn to clinical trials now. Why should a myeloma patient consider participating in a clinical trial?  

Dr. Khan:

The main potential benefit to a patient includes getting a new treatment for a disease before it’s even approved for other patient with multiple myeloma. Sure, clinical trials have risks and benefits, but participating in a clinical trial is probably also safer than ever.  

What I mean by that is clinicians that participate in clinical trials are required to follow very strict rules and guidelines to make sure the participants are safe, and these rules are enforced by the federal government. Each clinical trial also follows a careful study plan, or protocol, and that describes what researchers will do and when they will do it. 

And the principal investigator, or the lead researcher, for that clinical trial has the responsibility that the protocol is followed at every site that the study is available. So, generally, that also means participants will get more frequent health checkups as being part of the clinical trial. And by volunteering for a clinical trial, patients are helping themselves and also the general society for patients afflicted with multiple myeloma.  

Katherine:

Right. Everyone who comes after them would be impacted. Why is patient participation in myeloma clinical trials critical to advancing research?  

Dr. Khan:

Clinical trials help researchers better understand health and disease. Clinical trial participation is actually considered the gold standard of providing medical healthcare.  

And, in fact, every therapy that is currently approved for myeloma right now is a direct consequence of participation of brave volunteers.  

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Jeanne Palmer discusses the treatment options available for essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF). Dr. Palmer explains how a treatment choice is determined for each of the MPNs and how anemia is managed in patients with myelofibrosis. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Much of the time the chosen treatment for MPNs manages the symptoms of the condition. I’d like to review the different types and classes of treatment for the three MPNs. So, let’s start with essential thrombocythemia again. When is it time to treat, and what are the options available? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Right. So, with essential thrombocythemia, that’s the disease that sometimes we don’t need to treat. 

So, we basically have a risk stratification system and this risk is based on age, history of a blood clot, the presence or absence of a JAK2 mutation. So, for example, if somebody is 28, does not have a JAK2 mutation, which is again one of those driver mutations, and never had a blood clot, they actually don’t necessarily need to do anything and just be monitored.  

Somebody who is less than 60 and has a JAK2 mutation or who is greater than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, in that setting, a lot of times you can use aspirin. Now, it gets a little bit gray in terms of that over 60 without the JAK2 mutation with regards to whether at that point you really should start taking some medicine to lower the platelets. 

Now, if somebody has a JAK2 mutation, is greater than 60 or has had a blood clot, hands down they need to take medicine to lower the platelets, in addition to aspirin or whatever blood thinner they may need. So, for example, if you have a blood clot in a vein, a lot of times you need to take a blood thinner and that will be a lifelong thing. And again, we do these risk stratifications because we know there is a certain risk of clotting associated with the risk of essential thrombocythemia.  

So, for example, somebody who is less than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, never had a clot, their risk of clotting is probably very close to that of the normal population. Whereas if you’re higher risk and have a JAK2 mutation and greater than 60 or have had a history of a clot, the risk of clot is probably about 4 percent per year. So, this is something that can vary quite widely, and even though that 4 percent per year on the short-term doesn’t sound like a lot, if you take it additive over years, that’s why we generally try to be aggressive about lowering the platelets.  

In lowering the platelets, the goal is to get less than 400 and doing that can be done through several different medications. The most commonly used medications is a drug called hydroxyurea, which has been around for a number of years, and a drug called anagrelide which is probably a little less commonly used, because it has some more GI side effects and headaches associated with it. 

In some cases, especially in younger patients with this disease, we can consider using interferon, which is an injection of a cytokine, which are one of the chemicals that regulates the immune system within the body. But this interferon can actually help lower the platelets and there is a question of whether it may affect the biology of the disease as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s turn to polycythemia vera or PV, what are the different options available for treating it? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, for polycythemia vera, everyone needs to be on aspirin. 

And additionally, everyone needs to make sure to keep their blood count low, to manage their hematocrit, which is one of the measures of red blood cells. So, in men it’s generally recommended to keep below 45 and in women it’s recommended to keep below 42 percent. Now, the studied number was 45 percent and that was a study that was done, I don’t know, it was probably about 10 plus years ago, that actually showed that by keeping the blood hematocrit less than 45 percent you reduce the risk of having negative events like cardiovascular events and heart attacks. Because women tend to run with a lower blood count than men, it’s been extrapolated that 42 percent should be the number used for women. 

Now, this can be done by phlebotomy, which essentially is bloodletting.  

It’s kind of like donating blood except for that the blood unfortunately can’t be donated to anybody, it has to be discarded. But the phlebotomy is one way to do that, and the reason that works is because it makes somebody iron deficient. So, whereas if this is normal, if you’re iron deficient you become anemic. If your baseline hematocrit is here, making you iron deficient brings you back to normal. So, even though we always associate iron deficiency with anemia, iron deficiency in the setting of polycythemia vera is actually kind of a treatment of sorts. 

Now, once somebody gets above 60 and 60 seems to be sort of the magic age in these diseases, once somebody gets above 60, it is recommended that cytoreductive therapy is used, which means therapy or treatment that will bring down the red count. And again, for this one, hydroxyurea is an option as well as interferon. And there is recently an approval, actually FDA approval for a newer interferon called ropeginterferon or Besremi, which can help just bring down the red blood cells but it is the first interferon that’s actually been FDA approved for this indication.  

Katherine Banwell:

Are JAK inhibitors used as well? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

They are. So, if somebody doesn’t respond well to hydroxyurea, the approval for ruxolitinib is actually for patients who have failed hydroxyurea. Although it’s something that we often consider especially in people who have a lot of symptoms. So, the itching, one of the things that can really help itching actually is Jakafi. If people have night sweats, they have weight loss, spleen related symptoms, those are the patients that will benefit from Jakafi. Additionally, if they are on hydroxyurea and can’t seem to get control of their blood count, Jakafi is a good option to help control the blood counts as well. 

Interferon is a very nice option because there’s great data that shows that you may actually be able to lower the percentage of JAK2 burden. 

So, we’d look at something called an allele burden, which is the percentage of cells that are involved – have the JAK2 mutation. Now, we don’t know whether lowering this percentage necessarily translates to long-term better survival, but I think there is enough data out there, and there is a good biologic underpinning for saying that this actually can help. But yes, Jakafi is another thing. 

And the really exciting thing is that there is a newer agent called rusfertide, which is a hepcidin mimetic, which is basically taking a protein in your body that helps metabolize iron and by making it externally and giving it to somebody that it can actually help bring down the hematocrit without having some of the other side effects we know with some of the other medications. That is currently in Phase III studies, so hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll see approval for that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great news. And finally, how is myelofibrosis treated? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, myelofibrosis is a little bit of a different animal. When you have something like essential thrombocythemia or PV, a lot of this is managing symptoms, preventing blood clots, but if you do appropriate treatment and management of these diseases you could probably live close to a normal life expectancy. 

So, I never typically pin a survival on it. With myelofibrosis, it’s a little bit different because there is a survival. Instead of saying you can live close to normal life expectancy, it backs up to saying how many years do I think you can live with this disease. Now, of course, we are horrible at predicting how many years anyone can live, so we have to take that all with a grain of salt. But we can at least sort of risk stratify people. 

And the first thing that’s really important is to figure out whether somebody is a transplant candidate or not and if, based on age, disease risk features, stuff like that, or whether we think they ever will be a transplant candidate. So, that kind of helps us sort of think about what your path moving forward is.  

Now, the current FDA-approved treatment for myelofibrosis, there are three JAK inhibitors approved, which is like Jakafi, which was the first approved one but there is also Inrebic or fedratinib and Vonjo or pacritinib and these have all been approved over the years. 

The role of JAK inhibitors and treatment of myelofibrosis is symptoms-based. So, for example, a lot of patients with myelofibrosis will have weight loss, night sweats, big spleens, really feeling fatigued and poorly and in this setting, the JAK inhibitor can be very helpful. And you don’t have to have a JAK2 mutation, a lot of times people say, well, I don’t have the JAK2 mutation so how can a JAK inhibitor help. So, the JAK inhibitor works on this pathway, which is called the JAK/STAT pathway, irrespective of mutation. 

So, if you are having symptoms and you have myelofibrosis, JAK mutation, excuse me, the JAK2 mutation does not predict who is going to have a response. And people who, regardless of which mutation you have, may actually benefit from it. 

So, the JAK inhibitors, though, are extremely effective at reducing symptom burden as well as reducing the spleen size. And we know that if a spleen is big and we can make it shrink that, that probably is a surrogate marker for living longer, and I think it’s because inflammation does a lot of wear and tear on the body. So if you can reduce the inflammation and the spleen shrinks, which generally go hand in hand, then you might help somebody live longer. It is not changing the biology of the disease, though, however, it doesn’t change the pathway and that this disease is kind of projecting ahead in terms of creating – it changes, as it goes along, may acquire new mutations or something like that which makes the disease become more serious. 

Right now, the approved therapies for it are JAK inhibitors and the Jakafi, ruxolitinib was the first one approved. Inrebic was approved several years back, or fedratinib. 

And then the most recent one that was approved is Vonjo or pacritinib and that’s a drug that is a JAK inhibitor that is actually very good for people with low platelets. The reason I bring that up is because if we think of what’s the biggest limiter of JAK inhibitors, JAK inhibitors bring down red blood cells, and they bring down platelets. So, when somebody has low platelets it’s very hard to use a JAK inhibitor, because we’re not really able to increase the dose well enough to get that inflammatory reduction because of the fact that the blood counts will drop too low. 

So, now drugs like Vonjo exist which, due to several other mechanisms associated with the drug are actually much more tolerated in somebody with low platelets. So, if you have low platelets, you can actually take the Vonjo, hopefully get the same degree of JAK inhibition to help the spleen shrink, help the symptoms get better without necessarily making the platelets substantially worse. A lot of times they do drop, it doesn’t help bring up the platelets, but it does help people tolerate more JAK inhibition, which ultimately will help with symptoms.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, one thing I also wanted to add about myelofibrosis treatment is sometimes people present, they don’t have a lot of symptoms, they don’t have a lot of spleen related problems but they have anemia or low blood counts and these can be incredibly hard to treat. 

Even with symptoms and low red blood cell count or anemia or low platelets, it can be challenging to treat because many of these medications lower that. To treat the anemia there are several things that we can do. One of the first ones is using erythropoietin, and so there are many agents, they go by the names of like Procrit or darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp), that actually stimulate red blood cell growth by – like we give a recombinant hormone that helps red blood cells grow. This is normally something produced by the kidney. 

So, one thing that’s important before going on one of these injections is to make sure that the kidney is not already producing enough. So, for example, if the kidney said, oh geez, I really need more red cells and is making lots of this hormone, erythropoietin, giving more of it is not going to help the system. But in people who don’t have a really high level it can be very beneficial.  

The other thing that can help with anemia, specifically, is a drug called danazol.  

It’s been around for a very long time. There are multiple presumed mechanisms of action, but one of them is that it is kind of a testosterone derivative. So, this is a medicine that can often help increase red blood cells in probably about 40 percent of people, and it’s a pill that you take twice a day. 

Another option, sometimes we use thalidomide or lenalidomide (Revlimid). These are medications that have been used quite frequently in the setting of multiple myeloma and even a little bit in myelodysplastic syndrome, so some other blood disorders.  

But in the setting of myelofibrosis, they can be helpful with anemia and sometimes are combined with prednisone or a corticosteroid. 

And then finally, in terms of drugs that are being tested and hopefully will be approved at some point in the future. There is a drug called momelotinib, which is another JAK inhibitor that actually has some mechanisms that may also help improve hemoglobin.  

So, this is something I’m really looking forward to and we anticipate may be approved by the end of the year. And finally, there is another drug called luspatercept. Luspatercept may work in the setting where your kidneys are already producing enough erythropoietin. So, the luspatercept is an injection that you receive once every three weeks.  

It is currently FDA-approved for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome but this is something that has been shown to have some efficacy in myelofibrosis as well. So, this could be another therapeutic option for patients with myelofibrosis. 

It is also important, especially for people who have polycythemia vera myelofibrosis to make sure that your iron has been checked and B-12 has been checked, because just because you have a bone marrow disorder doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a nutrition deficit that may be able to help improve your hemoglobin somewhat. But these are important things to talk to your doctor. I do not recommend just starting to take iron or B-12, however, if you’re anemic because in many cases you are not deficient and taking too much iron can actually be damaging.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, that’s great advice.  

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.