Tag Archive for: Erythropoietin

What Are the Currently Approved Myelofibrosis Therapies?

What Are the Currently Approved Myelofibrosis Therapies? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Expert Dr. Gabriela Hobbs shares an overview of available therapies and important considerations when choosing a myelofibrosis treatment plan.

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.

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Would you provide an overview of the currently approved therapies for myelofibrosis?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Sure, absolutely. So, I’ve alluded to this a little bit. So, in 2011, we had the first JAK inhibitor approved called ruxolitinib, the brand name is Jakafi. After that, we had the approval of Inrebic or fedratinib and then pacritinib or Vonjo, and then most recently momelotinib or Ojjaara. So, we have four different JAK inhibitors that are now approved for myelofibrosis.   

So, who needs to get a JAK inhibitor and how do we choose between the JAK inhibitors? So, the traditional indications for JAK inhibitors are, does a patient have bothersome symptoms from having a big spleen? Does a person have symptoms from their disease? Symptoms can include things like night sweats, itching, unintentional weight loss, brain fog, and fatigue. Fatigue can be challenging because of course many things can cause fatigue. But those are some of the symptoms that can occur with having this disease. So, if a patient has both splenomegaly symptoms or one or the other, they’re eligible for a JAK inhibitor.  

So, just having myelofibrosis doesn’t mean that you need to have a JAK inhibitor right away. Probably the most commonly used JAK inhibitor, and this will be the case probably for a long time, is ruxolitinib.  

The reason for that is that it’s been around for a long time, and it’s a very well-tolerated medication. Patients that have platelets that are very low, meaning platelets that are less than 50, should be considered for pacritinib first, as that’s the indication for that agent. Patients that don’t do that well on ruxolitinib initially, let’s say that the dose gets increased and the spleen and the symptoms are still present, but still have good blood counts, are good candidates for then receiving fedratinib. Fedratinib can also be given upfront. It rarely is given upfront, simply because ruxolitinib has been around for longer and it’s a better-tolerated medication.

So, therefore most providers feel more comfortable giving that upfront. I have had some patients that are concerned about the weight gain that is a side effect of ruxolitinib. For those patients, I’ve occasionally considered giving fedratinib first before ruxolitinib. And then lastly, we have momelotinib. It’s approved primarily for patients with myelofibrosis and anemia.  

Now momelotinib is still a JAK inhibitor, so it can still improve symptoms, and it still improves spleen size. So, I struggle with that recommendation of just using it for anemia in patients that don’t have splenomegaly or symptoms.   

But the FDA label was pretty broad, and it’s important to recognize that. So, how is momelotinib being used? It can be used in the upfront setting for patients that have spleen and symptoms, and also anemia, meaning low red blood cell levels. Or,  it can be used for patients that have been treated with a JAK inhibitor first and then develop anemia. So, momelotinib is given to continue to improve the spleen and symptoms, but also help the anemia.

So, that’s kind of like an overview of the four JAK inhibitors. Now we have a group of patients that maybe doesn’t have a lot of spleen symptoms or symptoms in general but has issues with having low hemoglobin. So, for those patients, we’ve used a variety of different medications, including medications that are called erythropoietin, which is a hormone that helps to boost the red blood cell levels.  

 A medicine that’s similar to testosterone that can also help boost the red blood cell levels called danazol (Danocrine). And then there’s a medication called luspatercept-aamt (Reblozyl) that has been approved for a related condition called myelodysplastic syndrome. And in some clinics, it can be used even though it’s not approved either by itself or in combination with ruxolitinib.

And then lastly, patients that have what is called high-risk myelofibrosis, meaning they have some mutations that may indicate that a patient has a higher risk of having complications of their disease, or they have very low blood counts, are usually considered high-risk. Those patients should be recommended and referred to transplantation as soon as they’re identified as having high-risk disease.  


When you say transplantation, you’re referring to stem cell transplant. 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yes, and I’m glad you said it that way actually. So, stem cell transplantation or bone marrow transplantation, same thing, interchangeable, same procedure. You got it.  


When considering therapy, how do you approach a treatment plan for someone diagnosed with myelofibrosis?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. So, when approaching how I care for a patient with myelofibrosis, I take several things into account. The first thing is, who is this patient? What other medical conditions do they have? How impacted are they by their myelofibrosis? Then what I like to do is to plug in the numbers of the patient, their blood work, their mutations, etcetera, into one of the many risk calculators that we have to determine what the risk of their myelofibrosis is.   

If a patient is considered high-risk, I will generally consider transplantation or discuss a referral to a bone marrow transplantation in one of our first visits, if not the first visit. After that, I need to determine whether or not the patient has symptoms from their disease, and if so, if they should receive a JAK inhibitor. Then I’ll look through their blood work, what their symptoms are to decide which JAK inhibitor to use first.   

If really the spleen and symptoms aren’t the primary issue, if it’s more related to low blood counts, then we can think about treatments directed at improving the hemoglobin, for example. There may be a group of patients that don’t actually require any treatment when I first meet them. So, just providing them with education, what to expect. Then discussing more of the psychological impact of living with a condition and approaches to handle that, maybe more the focus of my care.

And in general, for most of my patients, we also talk about the rest of the care. So, not just what the blood work is and what medicine I’m going to start them on, but also other things that they can do to take care of themselves, including making sure that they are actively monitored by their primary care doctor or by other specialists if that’s still appropriate. You know, one of the things we don’t discuss that frequently in myelofibrosis, we discuss that more often in essential thrombocythemia or polycythemia vera is a risk of blood clots.  

But the truth is that myelofibrosis patients can also have risks of blood clots. So, therefore, making sure that patients with MF that may have issues like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc., get those well-managed is also really important to prevent them from having blood clots. So, lifestyle management is also an important part of the care of a patient with myelofibrosis.  

An Overview of ET, PV and MF Treatment Options

An Overview of ET, PV and MF Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Treatment for essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF) can vary greatly. Dr. John Mascarenhas breaks down the treatment types and the goals of treatment for each type of myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN).

Dr. John Mascarenhas is Associate Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) and the Director of the Adult Leukemia Program and Leader of Clinical Investigation within the Myeloproliferative Disorders Program at Mount Sinai. Learn more about Dr. Mascarenhas, here.

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Katherine Banwell:

Depending on the patient, it seems like ET or PV may be easily managed. So, how are they treated? Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia or ET.

Dr. Mascarenhas:       

So, ET is a disease in which first and foremost, we’re trying to reduce the risk of thrombosis, clotting, and/or hemorrhage bleeding. So, typically, ET patients are risk stratified by low risk or high risk.

It’s almost simply based on their age, whether they’ve had a clot in the past, and some systems now even incorporate other factors like mutation status. And, you tailor the treatment based on their risk score. So, low risk ET patients don’t necessarily need to be treated. They can be followed expectantly and watched. The height of the platelet count does not predict thrombotic risk. So, we don’t treat the platelet count per se. A high-risk patient is at high risk for clotting. So, these patients almost invariably are getting aspirin at a baseline, and they are often on cytoreductive therapy. And sometimes, that is chemotherapy like hydroxyurea. Sometimes it’s a non-chemotherapeutic option and like anagrelide, and sometimes it’s a biologic therapy like interferon alfa either 2a, Pegasys, or 2b ropeginterferon. And, these are therapies that have rationale, that have clinical data, that have demonstrated reduction in risk of clotting, which again is the reason why we treat high-risk ET patients.

Katherine Banwell:                  

And, what about PV, polycythemia vera?

Dr. Mascarenhas:     

So, in polycythemia vera, it’s similar to ET. We risk stratify patients low and high risk based on age and clotting histories. And whether you’re low or high risk, we give PV patients aspirin or at least once daily, and we look to keep their hematocrit below a threshold of 45 percent. And sometimes in women, we even go lower, to 42  percent. But the idea is that controlling the hematocrit, which is one of the red blood cells indices, you reduce the risk of having clots, and that’s been shown actually many years ago and reinforced in a very well-known study called the CYTO-PV study in Italy documented that if you keep the hematocrit less than 45 percent, so, stringent control versus allowing for less stringent control between 45 to 50, that you reduce by fourfold the number of cardiovascular events that can occur.

So, we know that controlling the hematocrit is important, and that can be done, again, with hydroxyurea, interferon, and ruxolitinib.

The JAK2 inhibitor has also proved specifically for patients who had an intolerance or refractory hydroxyurea, but also importantly as a drug that can address, probably better than most drugs in this field, the symptom burden that could be problematic for some of those patients. But, it’s really about controlling the hematocrit.

Katherine Banwell:                  

Yeah. Since myelofibrosis is a progressive condition, I imagine that makes it more difficult to manage. So, what else is available for patients with myelofibrosis?

Dr. Mascarenhas:       

The first line of treatment is typically a JAK inhibitor, although I would say that there are a subset of patients – well, there are patients we sometimes meet that have very low risk disease. They don’t have those clinical variables we discussed before that could uptick their risk score, and some of those patients can be watched.

And interestingly, there are a subset of patients that can have an indolent or slow form of the disease where they don’t have aggressive changes in their disease, their blood counts, their symptoms, their spleen, and don’t need immediate treatment. Most patients would benefit from a JAK inhibitor, although there are a subset of patients where their issue is less simple in spleen burden and it’s more anemia.

So, we take those patients where anemia’s the focus, we look at their erythropoietin level, which is their endogenous hormone level that regulates red blood cell production. If it’s low, we give them a lab-based form of erythropoietin, something called Procrit or Aranesp. If it’s high, we will move on. We can use a drug called danazol, which is a synthetic male androgen which can improve hemoglobin levels in 20 to 40 percent of patients. Or, we can use a drug called lenalidomide, which is an immunomodulatory drug. And, more recently, there’s a drug in testing called to luspatercept, which is an active activin receptor ligand trap. So, there is a growing armamentarium of drugs that can be used to try to alleviate the anemia which is present and can be a significant issue in about a quarter of patients with myelofibrosis upfront at time of diagnosis or about 75  percent through the course of their disease. So, that’s an unmet need that still requires attention and may alter the treatment plan for a given patient.

Katherine Banwell:                  

What about stem cell transplants?

Dr. Mascarenhas:       

So, we relegate stem cell plant transplants for those patients as mentioned before that are higher risk because we think that the potential benefit-to-risk ratio is in favor of transplant.

Transplant is really a modality that is the only modality that offers the potential for cure, but it’s also a modality that poses a significant risk of morbidity and mortality associated with it. So, it has to really be taken very seriously. It can’t be the kind of treatment you would think of as a last resort at the last minute. Once you see a transplanter, if they’re interested in that therapy and see it early on in the disease course, in my opinion, to start that dialog and then figure out when is the optimal time to employ a bone marrow transplant, which is not a surgical procedure. It’s often thought to be surgical. It’s not a transplant of an organ. It’s a transplant of hematopoietic cells. So, it’s really an infusion of stem cells that then end up in the person’s bone marrow, and they create a whole new hematopoietic system and immune system. And with that, you can have an immune system that then goes after the myelofibrosis stem cells.

That’s called graft-versus-leukemia effect. But with that included graft-versus-host disease, which is when the new graft, the new immune system doesn’t always recognize well the person’s own tissues, whether it’s the liver, or the lung, or the skin, and you can have immunologic reactions to that.

So, that’s a complex discussion. But, transplant, typically for patients less than 70 years of age who have high-risk myelofibrosis or even up to 75 if they have a good performance status and as we said don’t have a lot of comorbid issues with a goal of cure. So, if you have someone where their goal is to try to maximize their time out of the hospital and they’re not focused on longevity, their focused on quality of life, that may not be an appropriate patient for transplantation.

So, I think a very upfront, honest and a transparent discussion with the patient about what to expect with transplant, what are the pros and cons, what are the risks involved, and importantly does it match up with their expectations or their desires.

Essential Lab Tests for Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Patients

Essential Lab Tests for Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Lindsey Lyle, a physician assistant specializing in MPNs, reviews the lab tests that should be administered following an MPN diagnosis and how the results could affect overall care.

Lindsey Lyle is a physician assistant at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, specializing in hematological malignancies with a subspecialty in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). More about this expert here.

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When somebody is diagnosed with an MPN, there are a variety of tests that are important for coming up with treatment strategies. And so, really, before starting treatment, it’s fairly imperative to have a CBC, or complete blood count, which was very likely done that led to the diagnosis of the MPN, but that’s very critical, as well as having a differential. This is basically just looking a little bit deeper at the white blood cells and their components, so that’s a critical part of the CBC, or complete blood count.

And then, having a chemistry panel, just to look at organ functioning, such as the kidney functioning and the liver functioning, as well as different electrolytes that may be indicative of something going on that would maybe impact treatment.

Additionally, having a bone marrow biopsy with molecular testing is advised. This is very critical in leading to the diagnosis of the MPN and then, also, really differentiating what subtype of MPN a patient may have.

The bone marrow is very critical for this purpose, and the genetic testing helps us to understand perhaps if a patient is having a higher-risk disease or a lower-risk disease and can help guide treatment as well. There are a variety of other chemistry tests that are done that can help specifically when looking at patients with polycythemia vera. This may be called an erythropoietin level.

Additionally, iron studies are generally recommended before starting treatment for MPNs, just to assess iron storage, availability, and that sort of component to the treatment may vary depending on that result. Additionally, if patients are having any sort of symptoms related to an enlarged spleen, generally, having an imaging study may be warranted if the symptom is quite severe and causing problems, and getting a baseline prior to starting treatment is generally a good idea.

When looking at a CBC, there are really three main cell lines that we monitor closely in MPNs regardless of the subtype, and this includes the white blood cell count, the red blood cell count or hemoglobin and hematocrit – those are measures of the total red blood cell count – and then, also, platelets. And so, these really are three different types of cells that your bone marrow produces that help with different functions.

And so, monitoring for any sort of changes within these three cell lines – white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets – can really help us know maybe how the disease is changing, how a patient is responding to treatment, so these three key laboratory values are very necessary and really help us as providers and U.S. patients monitor progress, or for any changes in a positive way, or perhaps in a way that needs to be addressed.