Tag Archive for: IDH1

What AML Mutations Are Associated With Adverse Outcomes?

What AML Mutations Are Associated With Adverse Outcomes? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Which acute myeloid leukemia (AML) mutations are linked to adverse outcomes? Dr. Naval Daver from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center shares insight..Learn about different mutations, treatment options, and the importance of testing.

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Daver:Check for mutations to the frontline setting…absolutely, these include FLT3, IDH1, IDH2, TP53, and NPM1 MLL this list will likely continue to grow as we get more targeted therapies in immunotherapies and find benefit in particular subsets, but also in the relapse setting to not depend on the baseline molecular profile because the lipids actually can change. We do see AML as a multiclonal disease, and there can be emergence and escape of different clones, so to check again in the relapse for those same mutations and both in the frontline, the relapse setting.

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Transcript: 

Art:

Dr. Daver, what mutations are associated with adverse outcomes in AML? What are the best time points to check for these mutations, and what therapeutic options do you consider for patients or harboring these mutations?

Dr. Naval Daver:

This is very, very important, a mutational targeted therapy is probably the biggest overarching change that has occurred in acute myeloid leukemia in the last decade, and of course to implement those therapies. One has to know the mutational profile, the five big mutations that whenever I speak to my patients in clinic today that I talk about wanting to know before I embark on any therapy are FLT3 or FLD3, IDH1, IDH2, TP53, and now, more and more recently, NPM1 or MLL, actually six different mutations, cytogenetic operations, and the reason is that we do have targeted therapies for these mutations, some of these targeted therapies are already approved in the frontline setting like the FLT3 inhibitors, some of these are being evaluated in ongoing Phase III  studies like the CD47 magrolimab for TP53.

As well as the menin inhibitors now in frontline setting in combinations of intensive chemo or HMA venetoclax (Venclexta), or MLL NPM1 but I think identifying these targets and getting the patients on the right clinical trial personalized to that target for them has historically shown significant improvements, 20 to 30 percent survival improvements in FLT3, IDH and potentially for the TP53 MLL NPM-1 so definitely on newly diagnosed, I would recommend getting that information and then going on to either standard of care the drugs already approved or clinical trial that incororates that targeted therapy or immunotherapy for a target in the relapse setting the two most important mutations today, or the three most important are FLT3, then IDH as well as MLL NPM1. 

Three inhibitors like gilteritinib (Xospata) are already approved. Similarly, IDH inhibitors and combinations of gilteritinib or IDH with venetoclax  are really showing very good outcomes, even in relapse three, which about 20 years ago was a very, very, very poor outcome. T

oday, we can get up to 80 percent of these patients to remission, half of them into transplant, and a good number may have long-term survival post-transplant, so it’s very important to not mislead to an IDH1, IDH2 to a relapse setting.

And then now with the menin inhibitors we’re also looking in all our patients for MLL rearrangement, NPM1 in relapse, because this could open the door for menin inhibitor-based therapy, which again can give up to 50 percent remission and a path to transplant. Now many patients at MD Anderson who have gone through too many inhibitors, transplant and are alive and ongoing at two and three years.

So the bottom line is, it’s important you check at my activation tip for this question is it’s important to check for mutations to the frontline setting…absolutely, these include FLT3, IDH1, IDH2, TP53, and NPM1 MLL this list will likely continue to grow as we get more targeted therapies in immunotherapies and find benefit in particular subsets, but also in the relapse setting to not depend on the baseline molecular profile because the lipids actually can change.

We do see AML as a multiclonal disease, and there can be emergence and escape of different clones, so to check again in the relapse for those same mutations and both in the frontline, the relapse setting.

To try to get on to a therapy, whether it’s approved or clinical trial that incorporates those targeted therapies, which has historically shown a significant improvement in both response and long-term survival. 

AML Clinical Trials Critical to Treatment Breakthroughs and Improvements

AML Clinical Trials Critical to Treatment Breakthroughs and Improvements from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why are acute myeloid leukemia (AML) clinical trials so critical? Dr. Naval Daver from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center shares his perspective about clinical trials. Learn how clinical trials help both current and future AML patients. 

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Daver:Clinical  trials are critical, both for the patients themselves to get access to what we call tomorrow’s medicine today as well as potentially to help move the entire field forward.”

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Transcript: 

Art:

Dr. Daver, what is the importance of clinical trial participation as it relates to breakthroughs in AML, and what advice do you have for AML patients considering a clinical trial?

Dr. Naval Daver: Clinical trials are critical for the progress that we have already seen an acute myeloid leukemia, the drugs that have been improved in the last six, seven years, including venetoclax (Venclexta), FLT3 inhibitors, midostaurin (Rydapt or Tauritmo),  gilteritinib (Xospata), hopefully quizartinib other emerging targeted therapies…IDH1, IDH2 inhibitors, menin inhibitors, CD47 antibodies, we’ve learned about all of them and have got approvals and many of them through the ongoing clinical trials.

I think it’s very important for patients to realize that in most large academic centers, we will only participate in the clinical trial if we think it has the potential to improve the standard of care in the future. There’s very little incentive for academic investigators or clinical investigators, such as myself, we’re very, very busy to get involved in a trial if we don’t think that it has the potential to improve the outcome or change the nature of AML therapy in the future, so a lot of patients often ask me, Oh, I want the randomized or placebo arm. There is no real placebo alone in any AML study that I’m aware of, most of the studies will use standard of care, which is what you would’ve gotten wherever you were getting treatment at home, locally, community hospital versus a standard of care plus where the new drug will be added, whether it’s the FLT3 inhibitor, the CD47 antibody, the menin inhibitor 

So there’s a good chance, 50 percent that you’re going to get standard of care plus that we think has the potential to improve the outcome, of course, you never know, that’s what you do, the trial, but we think based on the previous pre-clinical data to pass when the page to deliver this looks like it will improve the outcome for this molecular or site group versus standard of care, which is what you will have gotten.

So I think it’s important to realize that you will never get less on standard of care and any clinical trial, at least in the AML field, and at least in our experience that they understand. 

Now, beyond that, there’s also a Phase I in two states, and those are the ones that we focus on quite a bit at MD Anderson, these are single arm studies, meaning everybody will get the investigational agent combo, so azacitidine (Onureg or Vidaza) and venetoclax (Venclexta), we were one of the first sites to work on and leave this study and all of our patients in 2015, 2016, we’re getting this regiment, it was not approved to much later in 2019, 2020, and for those three, four years, our patients, hundreds of patients were able to get that combination, which probably cured many, many more than would have been cured to the standard of care until, of course, I’ve got a pro four years later, but for an option, of course, you cannot wait four years, so I’m a huge believer in clinical trials, I think it’s really, really important, both for the patients themselves as well as for the field, for us to be able to move the entire AML field forward for the next decade, and I would very strongly consider looking at or discussing with your treating physician trial options, and then you can look at them on your own through clinicaltrials.gov, or other sites with leukema and lymphoma that give a lot of information on clinical trials. 

So my activation tip related to this question is that I think clinical  trials are critical, both for the patients themselves to get access to what we call tomorrow’s medicine today as well as potentially to help move the entire field forward, all of the clinical drug approvals in progress we have seen in AML in the last six, seven years have come through clinical trials that patients in the past have agreed to kindly participate and helped probably themselves by getting better medications and combinations, and definitely the field to move forward, so definitely a big proponent for clinical trials. 

Why Is the Menin Pathway Important in AML?

Why Is the Menin Pathway Important in AML? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients know about the menin pathway? Dr. Naval Daver from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center shares information from ASH 2022. .Learn research updates about the menin pathway and ongoing clinical trials on the pathway.

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Daver: “Patients should be checked for arrangements like MLL rearrangement NPM1 mutation, new fusions as these may be amenable to therapy with the menin inhibitors, there are multiple trials with five different menin inhibitors, single agent trials and also combination trials now ongoing across multiple centers both in the U.S. and ex-U.S.

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Transcript: 

Art:

Dr. Daver, what is a menin pathway in AML? And why is it significant?

Dr. Naval Daver:

The menin pathway is very recently discussed that way, the pathway, of course, itself has been known for almost a decade, this is an epigenetic pathway, and in certain subsets of AML such as MLL rearranged NPM1 mutated as well as other fusions, we find that there is an up regulation of the menin impact rearrangement, and this actually results in increased production of two enzymes called meis-1 and hox-DNA) these enzymes actually result in a differentiation blockade. So normally, in the bone marrow we have the early progenitor cells, this then leads to be a report cell and leads to mature neutrophils and monocytes and blood cells, but in a differentiation blockade, we would see that those cells over time would start generating mutations and become leukemic cells.

So one of the most physiological ways to treat AML is to actually remove the differentiation blockade, so the normal process of differentiation with progress, and so these menin inhibitors are able to reduce the levels of MEIS1 and HOXA by doing this, they allow the normal differentiation cascade to progress, and they’re not cytotoxic targeted chemo, they’re not directly killing leukemia, but they’re actually allowing the leukemia itself to then mature to no monocytes and neutrophils.

And so now there are five different menin inhibitors in ongoing clinical trials, but two of these are more advanced and have shown data recently in the ASH 2022 meeting the newer drugs, and are showing close to 40 to 50 percent single agent efficacy, and we believe that after the FLT3, IDH1, IDH2 inhibitors, which have been approved in the last five years, the menin inhibitors are probably the next other targeted therapies that will hopefully get approval and they eventually be used in the frontline setting in combination approaches. 

The activation tip related to this question is that patients should be checked for arrangements like MLL rearrangement NPM1 mutation, new fusions as these may be amenable to therapy with the menin inhibitors, there are multiple trials with five different menin inhibitors, single agent trials and also combination trials now ongoing across multiple centers both in the U.S. and ex-U.S., and if one does have an aberration that will be sensitive to such menin inhibitor-based therapy, I would strongly recommend considering trying to get on one of those trials because we believe that these will be the best outcomes with such standard therapies rather than using the standard or traditional chemotherapies. 

AML Treatment Approaches Expand for Older and High-Risk Patients

AML Treatment Approaches Expand for Older and High-Risk Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How have acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment approaches expanded for older and high-risk patients? Dr. Naval Daver from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center shares insight about additional treatment options. Learn about the potential for long-term cures for these patient groups. 

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Daver: “There is a dramatic progress, especially in the treatment of older unfit AML with the approval of the azacitidine-venetoclax combination.”

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Transcript: 

Art: 

Dr. Daver, for older and high-risk AML patients, how are the treatment approaches expanding?

Dr. Naval Daver: 

In older and high-risk AML, the major approval has been the combination of azacitidine (Onureg or Vidaza) and venetoclax (Venclexta), which is a BCL-2 inhibitor, the regimen was evaluated in a large Phase III study called the VIALE study, where we looked at the standard of care for the last two decades for older unfit AML, which azacitidine alone versus the combination of azacitidine and venetoclax and this combination showed a three times higher remission rate, 75 versus 28 percent overall remission rate as well as an improvement in overall survival and long-term survivors.

So this has led to great progress with now remission rates of 75 percent achievable in older unfit AML and many of them being durable at three years with ongoing follow-up, so this has really opened the door for us to be able to treat patients up to 75, 80, 85 years of age with effective therapy given the three parts of these to achieve remission, which is usually associated with freedom from transfusion improvement, quality of life, improved energy, less time in the hospital, less infections.

The other progress now is coming from the use of targeted therapies as well in these populations, and even though the HMA venetoclax or azacitidine combination is doing very well.

We now have data, in fact, from the ASH 2022 December meeting that at three years, about 25 percent or so I would still remain alive with azacitidine was even or 8 percent, now it’s 25 percent. But, of course, we want to do much better than that, and so this is where we are incorporating the targeted therapies, the FLT3 inhibitors, the IDH1, IDH2 inhibitors, menin inhibitors, and immunotherapies onto the backbone of azacitidine-venetoclax, which we hope will further improve that long-term survival cure from 25 to hopefully 50 to 60 percent and beyond.

So a lot of progress, you know, going from less than 10 percent, a 30 percent survival, long-term, and I think in the next few years, even up to 50 percent with some of these new combinations. The activation tip related to this question is that there is a dramatic progress, especially in the treatment of older unfit AML with the approval of the azacitidine-venetoclax combination.

This regimen is now giving high remission rates, which approximate remission rates that are seen with traditional intensive chemotherapy without the mucositis and toxicities and better volatility, and we are now working to further improve the remission and the durability of this dominant of initial.

 …potentially adding targeted therapy such as FLT3 inhibitors, IDH1, IDH2 menin inhibitors, and we think that potentially in the next decade, we could be achieving long-term cures in a large proportion of older unfit AML, which was something one could just dream of a decade ago. 

What Are the Latest Acute Myeloid Leukemia Therapies?

What Are the Latest Acute Myeloid Leukemia Therapies? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the latest treatments in acute myeloid leukemia (AML)? Dr. Catherine Lai from Penn Medicine discusses the increase in available AML treatments. Learn about combination therapies and treatment options for patients with IDH1, IDH2, and FLT3 mutations.

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Lai: “Ask your physician and your oncologist when you’re talking with them about what all the newest therapies are and what would be specifically the best treatment for their specific leukemia with respect to the different mutations.”

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Transcript: 

Art:

Dr. Lai, for newly diagnosed AML patients, what are the latest available therapies?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

That’s a great question. The last, I would say, a handful of years have really seen a dramatic increase in the number of new treatment options for AML patients, specifically since 2017, the FDA has approved 10 new drugs for AML, that’s both for patients who are newly diagnosed and in the relapsed refractory setting.

And so what I would say is that we break our patients into two different categories in terms of being able to tolerate intensive chemotherapy versus non-intensive chemotherapy, and as well as looking at specifically targeted mutations that patients may have so that we can better understand the disease but also treat these patients more specifically to try to maximize efficacy while minimizing toxicity. 

And so specifically, I would say for patients who have FLT3 mutations, there are drugs such as midostaurin (Rydapt) and gilteritinib (Xospata), there are drugs for mutations in IDH1 and IDH2, enasidenib (Idhifa) and ivosidenib (Tibsovo) and recently, or in December of  2022, olutasidenib (Rezlidhia) was also approved for IDH1-mutated patients as well.

We have a general targeted agent that’s an oral chemotherapy that probably has made the biggest difference in how we treat patients called venetoclax (Venclexta), and that’s used in combination with azacitidine (Onureg) or decitabine (Dacogen), or low dose cytarabine (Cytosar).

Although most commonly in the United States, we use azacitidine or decitabine in combination with the venetoclax, and that I think is really what I’d say has been practice changing for the most part, in terms of both increasing the complete remission rates as well as the overall survival for these patients. So I would say there are a lot of new drugs. It is all very exciting.

The biggest activation tip in terms of takeaways is to ask your physician and your oncologist when you’re talking with them about what all the newest therapies are and what would be specifically the best treatment for their specific leukemia with respect to the different mutations.

Art:

Okay. Dr. Lai, what are the latest approaches to combination chemotherapy to treat AML?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

So, the latest approaches for combination chemotherapy would be in the combination of a hypomethylating agent, azacitidine or decitabine in combination with venetoclax. This is the most practice-changing combination that has been approved since 2017 to 2018, and now more recently, what’s been happening is now looking, so we call that a doublet, and now it’s been looking at…what we’ve been studying is now whether or not triplets are more effective, when we do have triple combinations, we do see an increase in toxicity and so on, we haven’t come up with the right algorithm in terms of what that exact formula should be, but often I think about it in kind of a three-fold in terms of wins the right time, what’s the right combination, and how do we see in the drugs, and I think the sequencing is the biggest thing that we don’t yet know, and how do we combine the two different..two different drugs in a way, and how do we give them in a way that will maximize efficacy, will minimize the toxicity, so as an example is, Do we give two drugs for a specific period of time, and then after some determined time point, do we…

And change it to a different set of combination of drugs to make sure that patients are getting the most benefit of the drugs, and we don’t know that yet, but I think that that’s where the general direction…where the landscape is heading, so the activation tip I would take home from this is just to have a conversation with your physician about potential clinical trials and how combination therapies are being used. 

 

How Does the Presence of Molecular Markers Affect AML Care?

How Does the Presence of Molecular Markers Affect AML Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani reviews how the presence of gene mutations can influence acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment choices and discusses new molecular markers being researched for future AML care.

Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani is professor of medicine and Chief of the Section of Developmental Therapeutics in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. Learn more about Dr. Ravandi-Kashani.

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Transcript:

Laura Beth:

How do test results impact AML care and treatment decisions?  

Dr. Ravandi:

So, in the first place, the presence or absence of certain mutations can be predictable outcome. Some subsets of leukemias are, for the lack of a better term, more favorable.  

I personally don’t think there is anything favorable about any leukemia, but some are easier to treat, and some are easier to cure than others. There is one specific subtype called acute promyelocytic leukemia that we actually completely treat differently. We don’t use even chemotherapy in that subset of leukemia.  

It has almost 100 percent success rate. And the treatment of other subsets can also be tailored, depending on these molecular and chromosomal changes. So, the initial therapy can be actually changed. There are now, for example, targeted agents that can be added to the chemotherapy, during initial chemotherapy.  

And also, once the patient is in remission, depending on favorable or unfavorable their leukemia is, they may be offered allogeneic stem cell transplant. So, yes, this information is highly important. In fact, I would say crucial for our decision-making in leukemia therapy these days.  

Laura Beth:

So, what is new in AML research related to molecular markers?  

Dr. Ravandi:

Well, it depends on your definition of new, but FLT3 mutations are very important because they’re now several FLT3 inhibitors, and as I mentioned, the initial therapies are different, to some extent. The IDH mutations are very important, again, because they are specific targeted agents.  

TP53 mutations are important because, unfortunately, they are particularly unfavorable.  

This is completely hot off the press, but there are subsets of AML called MLL rearranged leukemias that can respond to these drugs called Menin inhibitors.  

There are other mutations that have been discovered, many other ones, that there are no specific treatments for at the moment, but there’s a lot of research on.  

Ivosidenib and Azacitidine for IDH1-Mutated AML

There has been another significant advance in the treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) at least for the small subset of patients (6-10%) who have a mutation in one of their genes called IDH1 (isocitrate dehydrogenase 1).   

Until 5-7 years ago, the typical initial treatment (called induction) for patients with AML consisted of relatively high doses of cytarabine (Ara-C) and another chemotherapy called an anthracycline (usually either daunorubicin or idarubicin).  Cytarabine is given as a continuous infusion for seven days and a daunorubicin or idarubicin is given on the first 3 days (this is commonly referred to as “7 + 3“regimen). There are other regimens that are sometimes used although most contain cytarabine.  This regimen is effective, but quite toxic and usually reserved for healthier fitter patients (generally under 65 without comorbidities like diabetes, or certain heart conditions). 

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved venetoclax and azacitidine for use in older patients or those with comorbidities.  Earlier this year, FDA approved Iivosidenib (used in combination with azacytidine) for newly diagnosed AML patients an IDH1 mutation.  The approval was for “adults 75 years or older, or who have comorbidities that preclude use of intensive induction chemotherapy”.  This was based on a clinical trial reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM): Ivosidenib and Azacitidine in IDH1-Mutated Acute Myeloid Leukemia,.  Ivosidenib is not a brand new drug, it was approved in 2018 for relapsed or refractory AML. 

The current approval was based on a global, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial comparing AML patients with an IDH1 mutation treated with ivosidenib and azacytidine with patients treated with azacytidine alone.  The primary end point of the trial was event-free survival (EFS), defined as the time until treatment failure (i.e., the patient did not have complete remission by week 24), relapse or death.  The first group of patients, who received ivosidenib had an EFS at 12 months of about 37% versus 12% in the placebo group.  In addition, the median overall survival (that is half of the patients lived at least this long) was 24.0 months with ivosidenib and azacitidine versus 7.9 months with azacitidine alone.  This is a big difference, although there is still a lot of room for improvement.  In addition, there were fewer infections in the ivosidenib, group although there were more incidences of low white blood counts (neutropenia) and bleeding in that group. 

While this is good news, showing ivosidenib (Tibsovo) and azacitidine (Vidaza) is better than azacitidine alone, most patients with AML with an IDH1 mutation who are not good candidates for intensive induction chemotherapy during the time period of the trial would likely have been treated with azacitidine and venetoclax (Venclexta).  The combination has been shown to be much more effective than azacitidine alone.  My guess is that azacitidine alone was chosen as the comparison, since the ivosidenib trial started enrolling patients in March 2018 (presumably the protocol for the trial was completed several months before that) and venetoclax was not approved until November, 2018.  The question remains, which is better ivosidenib and azacitidine or azacitidine and venetoclax.  I believe we will probably never know.  Given that AML is already a rare disease and no more that 10% of AML patients have an IDH1 mutation, it is not likely such a trial would be done.  Instead, it seems more likely that trials will look at the 3-drug combination of ivosidenib, venetoclax and azacitidine.  Perhaps a trial with 3 arms may be done, comparing azacitidine with ivosidenib, or venetoclax or both.  I hope the 3-drug combination will be more effective than either ivosidenib or venetoclax combined with azacitidine.  If the side effects are not much worse, then standard therapy for AML patients with an IDH1 mutation who are not good candidates for intensive chemotherapy would become the 3-drug combination.  This would happen faster than first comparing ivosidenib to venetoclax and then comparing the better of those two to the 3-drug combination.   For younger healthier patients, ivosidenib is being combined with intensive chemotherapy in clinical trials.


Further reading: 

Ivosidenib and Azacitidine in IDH1-Mutated Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the original article from the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2022; 386:1519-1531). 

Ivosidenib and Azacitidine for IDH1-Mutated AML, mostly a repeat of the abstract of the above NEJM article, but also includes some commentary. 

Ivosidenib with Chemotherapy New Option for Some People with AML an article on Ivosidenib and Azacytidine from Cancer Currents: An NCI Cancer Research Blog. 

This AML Treatment Option is an Alternative to Induction Therapy an article on Ivosidenib and Azacytidine from PatientPower. 

FDA approves ivosidenib in combination with azacitidine for newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia an article about the drug approval, from Practice Update (registration may be required). 

Ivosidenib or enasidenib combined with intensive chemotherapy in patients with newly diagnosed AML: a phase 1 study, an article in Blood (Volume 137, Issue 13, April 1 2021) about a preliminary study of Ivosidenib and Enasidenib (for patients who have a mutation in IDH2) along with intensive chemotherapy (“7+3” induction, Ara-C consolidation). 

FDA grants regular approval to venetoclax in combination for untreated acute myeloid leukemia, an article from the FDA on the approval of Venetoclax for treating AML (October, 2020). 

FDA approves first targeted treatment for patients with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia who have a certain genetic mutation, an article from the FDA on the initial approval of Ivosidenib for treating AML (July, 2018).FDA approves first targeted treatment for patients with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia who have a certain genetic mutation, an article from the FDA on the initial approval of Ivosidenib for treating AML (July, 2018). 

Which Tests Do You Need Before Deciding on an AML Treatment Path?

Which Tests Do You Need Before Deciding on an AML Treatment Path? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Why is it important to ask about biomarker testing for your AML? Find out how test results could reveal more about your AML and may help determine the most effective treatment approach for your individual disease.

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Transcript:

Why do you need biomarker testing before deciding on a treatment plan for your acute myeloid leukemia—also known as AML?

The results may predict how your AML will behave and could indicate that one type of treatment may be more effective than another.

Biomarker testing—also referred to as risk stratification, genetic testing, or molecular testing—identifies specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities and/or other molecular changes that are unique to your AML.

The results of these tests are used to determine if you have low-risk or high-risk AML to help guide prognosis and to evaluate the goals of treatment.

There are certain biomarkers—such as the FLT3, IDH1 and IDH2 mutations—that could indicate that your AML may respond well to a targeted therapy. There are several FDA-approved targeted therapies—known as inhibitor therapies—which treat patients with these mutations.

Additionally, the identification of other biomarkers—such as TP53, NPM1, or CEBPA mutations, to name a few—may aid in assessing your prognosis, determining a treatment course, or may identify if an allogeneic stem cell transplant may be appropriate. Results of these tests may also suggest that a clinical trial is your best treatment option.

So, how can you Insist on the best care for YOUR AML?

• First, always bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process information and to take notes.

• Ask your doctor if you have had, or will receive, biomarker testing and how the results may impact your care and treatment plan. Be sure to ask for paper or electronic copies of your important test results.

• Finally, always speak up and ask questions. It’s important that you understand all of the information that you want to know about your AML to help make the best treatment decisions for you. You are your own best advocate, and treating AML is a team approach.

To learn more about your AML and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/AML

What Questions Should Patients Ask About MPN Test Results?

What Questions Should Patients Ask About MPN Test Results? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should you know about your MPN test results? Dr. Mascarenhas discusses how test results are used, including the importance of genetic mutations and risk stratification when analyzing results.

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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Transcript

Katherine Banwell: 

Some patients may not know if they’ve received these important tests. So, what key questions should they ask their physician about testing?

Dr. Mascarenhas:       

Well, I think it’s important that the patients feel empowered to understand sort of where the field is and what key questions you would ask a physician, hematologist who’s taking care of you. So, I think all patients should be aware of their diagnosis, the name of the diagnosis, the subtype, but also do they have any of the key driving mutations, the JAK2 mutation, the calreticulin mutation, the MPL mutation, and that’s usually done off of a bone marrow biopsy sample, but it can be done off peripheral blood. And, they may not always know that it’s done. So, I think having a discussion with the position to understand there are criteria that exist called the World Health Organization criteria that are updated frequently and should set a standard throughout the world of how you diagnose and establish these diagnoses.

So, I think it’s important for physicians to be able to convey to the patients with confidence, “We follow these criteria and you have these criteria and we’ve done this testing that shows that you have these mutations.” And not just regurgitate what they found, but help them understand and navigate with that means, which again, I will point out that sometimes we don’t know. But, I think it’s important for physicians to convey sometimes that some of the findings that they may see, for example, patients look on portals these days and they can look at their labs and stuff like that. And, we don’t always have a terrific answer or an informed answer for everything that we get back. And, we will potentially in 10 years from now, but sometimes at the moment, we don’t. But, I think a discussion about the meaning of the labs that are obtained is probably good for the patient to understand what’s being done.

Katherine Ba:nwell:

Absolutely. It sounds like each person’s situation is unique and should be considered before making any treatment choices. Can you talk about how the results of these tests may affect prognosis and treatment?

Dr. Mascarenhas:     

So, we do have risk stratification systems that we use for essential thrombocythemia, polycythemia vera, and myelofibrosis. I’ll talk about myelofibrosis because that’s probably a little bit more of a complex and sophisticated model. It’s also changing, and we update it frequently. And, these models are imperfect, so I always warn patients to not put all of their money in one basket when we talk about risk stratification. They broadly help us understand where a patient is in their disease course. So, for example, in myelofibrosis, historically, the DIPSS, the Dynamic International Prognostic Scoring System is used, which considered five clinical variables that have been shown to be independently prognostic. So, at age over 65, the presence of blasts or circulating immature cells in the peripheral blood, anemia, hemoglobin less than 10, symptoms, fevers, night sweats, weight loss or a high white count over 25,000, you those points up.

And patients can do this online. There are calculators that you can calculate your DIPSS score. And, you’ll see that there are four different risk groups that range from low risk to high risk, and they are associated with median survivals. We now know that mutations influence those, have influence on prognosis. So, there are a group of high molecular risk mutations like ASXL1, SRSF2, IDH1/2. So, there are mutations that also have prognostic significance, and we incorporate them into the decision-making.

And, essentially, and this is where I think patients have to be very careful, physicians have to be very careful with conveying this. With these risk models whether they are clinical variable risk models or these integrated molecular risk models, each category is associated with a median survival, that’s based on retrospective studies. But that doesn’t tell the patient specifically what they should expect in terms of survival. And, I always fear that patients, when they look at these things, or even physicians when they convey them that they may inadvertently misrepresent or convey what those really mean.

And, I think the purpose of those risk stratifications is really to help guide a risk adapted treatment approach that’s reasonable and is weighted for benefit to risk of the disease. So, for example, if you have advanced disease with a high-risk score of intermediate to or higher, bone marrow transplant in certain patients may be a warranted therapy to consider. So, they really help inform treatment.

 

AML Targeted Therapies, What’s Available and How Do They Work?

AML Targeted Therapies, What’s Available and How Do They Work? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

There are several targeted therapies approved for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Expert Dr. Ellen Ritchie provides insight about recent approvals, how these therapies work, and shares details about newer therapies currently being studied for the treatment of AML.

Dr. Ellen K. Ritchie is assistant professor of medicine and a member of the Leukemia Program at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. More about Dr. Ritchie, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

You touched upon this earlier, but what targeted therapies or treatments are available for AML patients?

Dr. Ritchie:

So, there have been many recent FDA approvals of drugs that are targeted. One, is the FLT3 inhibitors. And the two that are available are Midostaurin, which is most commonly – was the first drug that was really added to intensive chemotherapy.

And clinical trials show that in those FLT3-positive population that patients had an overall better outcome if midostaurin (Rydapt) were added to intensive chemotherapy. There’s also a drug called gilteritinib (Xospata), and this drug is also a FLT3 inhibitor that was tested in patients who had refractory leukemia. They could either get real chemotherapy regimen or they could get gilteritinib. And it turns out in the FLT3-positive patients, the gilteritinib was superior to the strong chemotherapy. So that’s been approved for patients who have refractory, or disease that didn’t really respond to initial therapy, that is IDH – or is FLT3-positive.

Then there’s the IDH1 and IDH2 inhibitors that have also been approved, and a small proportion of AML patients will be positive for IDH1 or IDH2 mutations.

The IDH1 inhibitor ivosidenib (Tibsovo), is available and can be used to treat patients if you know up front, they have an IDH1 inhibitor. So, that’s a regimen where the single agent can be used to treat an IDH1 mutated patient who’s newly diagnosed. Those patients are also eligible for many clinical trials now, where they’re combining that particular drug with other agents, in an effort to improve outcome. For IDH2 positive patients, there’s a drug called enasidenib (Idhifa). And this drug is used mainly in patients in the second line setting. But it specifically targets IDH2. And patients go into remission sometimes for a prolonged period of time. So, these drugs are FDA approved, and they’re treating targetable mutations.

TP53 mutations are a particularly bothersome mutation because it confers a poor outcome. And I’m happy to say that we have clinical trials now that are available that actually target TP53 mutations.

So, there are – there is therapy available for that type of mutation that was

not available before through the clinical trials. And I expect in coming years that we’re going to see more and more targeted therapies develop in AML which can be used potentially in combination with what we’re already using as backbones to enhance the outcome of patients with this disease.

Katherine:

Well, how do targeted therapies work?

Dr. Ritchie:

So, targeted therapies work on – it’s sort of complicated. The targets which are available, IDH or the FLT3 is really on the outside of the cell and it is a drug which is targeted directly to the FLT3 on the outside of the cell.

It works quite well in the peripheral blood, where you see the blast oftentimes disappear. The big concern always is how well it’s working getting deep into the marrow. But it’s looking at the target on the outside of the cell. IDH1 and IDH2 inhibitors work on particular chemicals which are involved in the kreb cycle, and those of you that took high school chemistry may have memories buried in the deep parts of your brain of learning the kreb cycle. And this is a fundamental metabolic cycle inside cells, and if you have a mutation, an IDH1 or IDH2, you’re unable to go through that full kreb cycle in the appropriate way. And that is something that leads to you having a cancer, in this case AML. So, these drugs actually interfere with what’s happening in that kreb cycle, and allow you to make more normal cells.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an AML Treatment

Factors to Consider When Choosing an AML Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What test results and factors should be considered when choosing an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment? Expert Dr. Ellen Ritchie explains how test results impact AML prognosis and treatment – and other factors that come into play when determining a treatment approach.

Dr. Ellen K. Ritchie is assistant professor of medicine and a member of the Leukemia Program at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. More about Dr. Ritchie, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

Well, when a patient has AML, if they are a fit patient, if it will help us determine after initial induction, whether to cure the patient we need to do a bone marrow transplant, or we can just continue with chemotherapy.

And those are really important things to determine. So, if you have a good prognosis AML, if you have an AML that has certain translocations like inversion 16 or 821, or if you have a CEPBA mutation or you have an NPM1 mutation, and that’s all you have, you may do particularly well with chemotherapy treatment alone. And you won’t need to have a bone marrow transplant.

If you have certain other mutations, we know that the only way that we’re going to cure you, is with a bone marrow transplant. And if you are fit, when we finish induction and even as we’re doing induction, we’re preparing you for a bone marrow transplant down the line.

One disadvantage, just to mention about the molecular testing, is it doesn’t come back as quickly as some of the other testing. So that you will have already started induction chemotherapy most generally before the mutational testing comes back. Which can be anywhere – depending upon the institution, between seven and 21 days. So, it takes time for those results to be available.

Katherine:

Outside of test results, Dr. Ritchie, what other factors should be considered when choosing treatment?

Dr. Ritchie:

So, you want to choose whether a patient is most likely to benefit from intense induction chemotherapy. With strong chemotherapies where the backbone of those therapies would be an anthracycline, like daunorubicin (Cerubidine) or cytarabine (Liposomal), or daunorubicin or idarubicin (Idamycin PFS), together with cytarabine. And these are intensive chemotherapies. Versus, non-intensive chemotherapy which is able to be done as an outpatient, more frequently. And it is something that is gentler for a patient, they’re less likely to have severe toxicity. And the backbone of those regimens is using a drug called azacitidine (Vidaza) or decitabine (Inqovi), together with a second drug called venetoclax (Venclexta).

So, these are the two backbones, there may be clinical trials or there may be targetable aspects of your leukemia, which drugs would be added to either of those backbones. But those are the two backbones. And I also like to identify those patients that may not benefit from chemotherapy at all. And so, it’s very important, I think to really get to know your patient. And I spend time with my patient, particularly on the first visit, to understand not only their physical health, but their mental health. How good is their cognition, what is their mood, are they depressed, or are they happy people? And what is their circumstance? Do they have people to support them? Do they live close to family? Is a caregiver able to come, with an elderly patient for example, to visits?

Those, and whether or not they’re living alone and need tremendous support. So that’s really important to determine and helps me to choose what the best therapy might be. And also, concurrently what I can do to shore up the patient to do better with whatever therapy that I’m giving them. I.e., if you’re depressed, let’s work on that, or if your blood pressure is too high, or if you are – your diabetes is out of control at the same time that I’m seeing you, to try and fix those particular problems. In older patients I often do sort of a miniature version of the geriatric assessment. And in trials that have been so far, the most important aspects of the geriatric assessment, are really what is your cognitive function? Do have a mild dementia, or do you not have a mild dementia? Because dementia may be or mild dementia may be associated with poorer outcome.

The other is, are you able to do what we call the incidental tasks of daily life. So, you know fundamental tasks are really brushing your teeth and combing your hair, and dressing yourself. But are you able to do your cooking and your shopping and your banking and those things? Patients who have trouble doing their cooking and shopping and banking, and those types of activities, that also has been associated with a poor overall survival in AML. So, it’s really important to determine all of those aspects and if there are any deficiencies, to really know that the only therapeutic choice for that particular patient would be a low-intensity therapy.

Understanding Personalized Medicine for AML

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

What should you know before deciding on treatment for YOUR AML? AML specialist Dr. Ellen Ritchie reviews key factors that guide treatment choices, including biomarker testing results, and shares advice for partnering with your team to advocate for the best care.

Dr. Ellen K. Ritchie is assistant professor of medicine and a member of the Leukemia Program at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. More about Dr. Ritchie, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

As we begin to talk about personalized therapy and AML, let’s start with the basics. How would you define personalized medicine?

Dr. Ritchie:

Personalized medicine, to me is really, it’s a difficult question. It’s trying to find the best treatment for a particular patient. And it’s looking at biologic issues, what kind of cancer, what type of AML is it, what are the specific mutations or chromosomal abnormalities. But it’s also looking at the person. Is the patient active or not active? Do they have lots of other diseases like diabetes and coronary artery disease? Or pulmonary disease, or are they completely healthy?

Or, do they have support at home? If they’re sick at home is there someone who can take care of them, versus a situation where you’re older and alone and you have no real family member to rely on. So, all of these things are very important in making a personalized decision as to how you treat a patient.

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into an AML Treatment Plan?

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into an AML Treatment Plan? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Eunice Wang discusses the role that clinical trials play in advancing research, the benefits of participation in research, and explains why she recommends trials for AML patients. 

Dr. Eunice Wang is the Chief of the Leukemia Service and Professor of Oncology at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. Learn more about Dr. Wang, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Where do clinical trials fit in when it comes to choosing treatment?

Dr. Wang:

Clinical trials are the mainstay of everything that we do in cancer care. Every single cancer drug that we’ve developed dating back into the 1970s at the National Institute of Health is the result of some patients and some doctors designing a clinical trial. These FLT3 inhibitors were developed over the last several years, so when I first came out of fellowship and started my training, we didn’t have these targeted therapies. Since 2017, in four years, we’ve had nine different drugs approved.

So, clinical trials are the way that we go from a finding in the laboratory to somebody having an extra birthday or going to their son or daughter’s wedding. That’s really how important it is, and those brave individuals who participate in clinical trials are helping not only themselves, but helping other people. I can’t tell you how many patients I enroll in clinical trials for AML, and I have told them – I said, “These nine drugs that we approved were because of nine different clinical trials which demonstrated benefit involving hundreds of thousands of patients.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a patient say to me, “Look, doctor, I’m going to participate in this clinical trial so that even if I’m not helped, you could learn something from me that could help the next person with their disease.” People are incredibly unselfish when it comes to clinical trials. I recommend a clinical trial for all my patients because I feel like that’s the cutting-edge clinical care.

I had patients here who I had on clinical trial drugs, and I was able to go to them and say, “Good news: Your drug has now been approved.” And, they say, “Doctor, why? I’ve been on this drug for a year.” And, I said, “That’s right, because you were part of that clinical trial, and you’re here now because of that drug, and now, a year or two later, that drug’s potency has been recognized, and now, the fact that you were in that trial has really helped us get this approval, which is going to help every other patient with that disease going down the line.” So, very important.

What Key Tests Do You Need Before Choosing an AML Treatment?

What Key Tests Do You Need Before Choosing an AML Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do test results influence treatment choices for AML? Dr. Eunice Wang shares information about essential testing and explains how results aid in determining the best personalized treatment option for each patient.

Dr. Eunice Wang is the Chief of the Leukemia Service and Professor of Oncology at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. Learn more about Dr. Wang, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What is the role of testing when deciding on treatment for AML?

Dr. Wang:

Testing is essential in us selecting and determining the best personalized treatment option for each individual patient. As you know, AML is an aggressive hematologic malignancy and can be devastating, both in its life-threatening nature and in its rapidity and the need for a rapid diagnosis. Testing, including both pathology results as well as protein marker testing, and, importantly in this day and age, DNA and RNA testing is essential because we have numerous different treatment options that could be available to the patient if their particular disease biology matches with the targeted therapies that we have.

So, as you may or may not know, since 2017, we’ve had eight or nine different therapies approved for AML, and this is a bonanza of options, some of which are only for specific biological subsets, and some even for specific patients, such as those above the age of 75. So, doing that testing, particularly that genetic testing, is important both in establishing the diagnosis and determining whether there is less toxic, more targeted, personalized treatment approaches, some of which involve low-dose chemo or even pills available to the individual patient.

Katherine:

You’ve answered this, in part, but which tests are essential following an AML diagnosis?

Dr. Wang:

I think all of them are essential, but in this day and age, for the selection of targeted therapy, it really is the mutational testing, which is looking at the RNA of the tumor cells and determining whether that has been altered in allowing the cells to express abnormal proteins. For standard chemotherapy, we also use DNA testing, which is looking at the different chromosomes and seeing whether there’s breakages or what we call translocations, pieces of chromosomes that have been swapped. That DNA chromosome information can give us some insight into prognosis and therapy response.

So, nowadays, it’s not just determining that you have acute leukemia, but looking at the specific DNA and RNA changes, and I have to say that this is a disease that we’re really not seeing any RNA or mutational changes occurring in more than 20 percent or 30 percent of patients. So all of the mutations that we see that could be impactful really don’t occur in more than 20 percent or 30 percent, and could only occur in five or one percent.

So, really, personalizing an individual patient’s disease, both for the disease biology as well as the person that’s getting the chemotherapy or the diagnosis, is really, really important.

Katherine:

Yeah. Let’s define a few terms that are often confusing for patients. What are biomarkers?

Dr. Wang:

Biomarkers are either proteins or expression levels on the cancer cells that can serve to tell us information about the biology of the disease. Okay, so, for example, if you have evidence of residual tumor proteins in your blood, that could be a marker, for example, of minimal residual disease, okay? And, that can tell you maybe one in a million cells have that biomarker, and then you can tell that those one-in-a-million cells are leukemia cells.

So, they’re any marker that we’re using that’s specific for the tumor that can help us in predicting or finding or locating or determining if a tumor would respond to a certain therapy.

Katherine:

What is biomarker testing?

Dr. Wang:

Biomarker testing can be done in many ways. For example, biomarker testing is drawing a sample from the patient and evaluating a marker that we think is going to predict for the disease type.

So, for example, in some cancers, we don’t want to biopsy the lung mass or the tumor mass every single time to see whether it’s shrinking, or getting smaller, or responding. So, in those patients, sometimes we’ll draw a blood sample, and we’ll look for a surrogate marker – some protein that’s expressed in the blood or some DNA or RNA in the blood that is a surrogate or a marker of the tumor so you don’t have to directly biopsy it.

In acute myeloid leukemia, we are looking for – like I said – particular cells in the blood that have particular proteins, and we measure those rather than going ahead and doing that bone marrow biopsy or biopsying those tumors. So, generally, in leukemia, it involves drawing blood samples – that’s the most common; it is a bloodborne disease.

Sometimes, we actually have to go into the bone marrow and do a bone marrow sample, but those biomarkers, as I said, can really improve our ability to detect very, very low levels of disease. So, for example, using a conventional bone marrow biopsy, we can only really detect 1 out of 200 cancer cells by normal – just by visual looking at, but by measuring biomarkers and mutations and other abnormal proteins, we can improve that to 1 in 100,000 cells.

So, really, these biomarkers are very sensitive and important because we want to detect the disease at a point where it’s very, very low. We don’t want to wait until the disease gets very advanced, in which case we think our therapies are less effective.

Katherine:

What is a genetic mutation?

Dr. Wang:

A genetic mutation is a mutation that occurs in the RNA of a cancer cell. That RNA dam – RNA aberration or abnormality does lead to different RNA – what we call transcript levels that lead to abnormal proteins.

Those proteins function in the cells to make a cell a cancer cell, okay? So, all cancer cells start out as normal cells, and as they acquire a mutation, they become a little less normal, and they start acquiring multiple mutations, and some of these mutations occur without DNA changes, some of them occur with DNA changes. And as these abnormalities occur, the cell gets more and more dysfunctional, and eventually, it starts becoming almost evil-ish.

It starts acquiring behaviors that are not normal, and then it starts to grow out of control, and that unchecked growth really is the end result of potentially many mutations occurring over time to drive that cell into becoming a cancer cell, and we call that process transformation, transforming from a normal, healthy-looking cell into almost a monstrous, cancer-like cell.

Katherine:

How do biomarkers affect AML treatment choices?

Dr. Wang:

So, those biomarkers, as I talked about, those mutations can determine what type of therapy patients can have. For example, up to 25 percent or 37 percent of newly diagnosed AML patients will have leukemia cells that carry the biomarker or the mutation in a gene called FLT3, or “flit.”

Those FLT3 cells can be inhibited by specific targeted therapies, including a drug called gilteritinib (Xospata), which is a pill which blocks mutant FLT3 expressed by AML cells. So, we’ve demonstrated, actually, in a randomized clinical trial that patients who have relapsed or recurrent AML who carry cells that have that biomarker – that FLT3 mutation – will actually do better if they take a daily pill – a FLT3 inhibitor – every single day for treatment of their aggressive acute myeloid leukemia than if we gave them low- or even high-dose chemotherapy in the hospital for four to six weeks.

So, that’s the power of those targeted therapies. Because the biomarker is telling you that there’s a sensitivity of that cancer cell to a specific blockage of that pathway, that can really dramatically change the course.

That is where the importance and the power of those biomarkers really goes into play. In the past, patients who had acute myeloid leukemia with FLT3 mutations did poorly with chemotherapy and had disease that came back even after multiple rounds of that intensive chemotherapy. The fact that we can give a pill and people could do better or even go to a bone marrow transplant off treatment with the pill is pretty remarkable.

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

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

What should you know before deciding which treatment is best for YOUR AML? AML specialist Dr. Ellen Ritchie reviews key factors that guide treatment choices, including biomarker testing results, and shares advice for partnering with your team to advocate for the best care.

Dr. Ellen K. Ritchie is assistant professor of medicine and a member of the Leukemia Program at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. More about Dr. Ritchie, here: weillcornell.org/ekritchie.

Download Program Resource Guide

See More From INSIST! AML

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Expert Advice for AML Patients When Making Treatment Choices

Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss how to access the most personalized AML therapy for your individual disease, and why it’s essential to insist on key testing. Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this program, contains a link to program materials. If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during this webinar. 

Finally, 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. All right, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Ellen Ritchie. Dr. Ritchie, would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Ritchie:

Hello, my name is Dr. Ellen Ritchie, and I am an attending with a Leukemia service, and an assistant director since, for the last 15 years. 

And I treat mainly Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Myelodysplastic syndromes, which are kind of a pre-Leukemia; and Myeloproliferative diseases. And have a particular interest in the treatment of older patients with AML.  

Katherine:

Excellent, well thank you so much for joining us today. As we begin to talk about personalized therapy and AML, let’s start with the basics. How would you define personalized medicine? 

Dr. Ritchie:

Personalized medicine, to me is really, it’s a difficult question. It’s trying to find the best treatment for a particular patient. And it’s looking at biologic issues, what kind of cancer, what type of AML is it, what are the specific mutations or chromosomal abnormalities. But it’s also looking at the person. Is the patient active or not active? Do they have lots of other diseases like diabetes and coronary artery disease? Or pulmonary disease, or are they completely healthy? 

Or, do they have support at home? If they’re sick at home is there someone who can take care of them, versus a situation where you’re older and alone and you have no real family member to rely on. So, all of these things are very important in making a personalized decision as to how you treat a patient. 

Katherine:

Well, it sounds like, each person’s AML is unique. So, let’s help our audience be clear about basic testing. What tests are necessary to help understand a patient’s specific disease at diagnosis? 

 Dr. Ritchie:

I mean certainly it’s important to do a physical exam and to find out what the general health of the patient is. In order to evaluate an AML, or any other Leukemia, I look at the peripheral blood smear. To look at what I think the type of Leukemia might be that I am dealing with. There are some Leukemias that have particular way that they look like Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia for which there is a designated therapy which works.  

And you can tell that just by looking at a peripheral blood slide. The next test is always a bone marrow biopsy. Patients are not delighted that that is a test, but it is a test that can be done in the office, usually within 15 to 20 minutes. And that test gives us a lot of information. It gives us information about what type of AML it is, what are the markers on the outside of the cell, it gives us information about the chromosomes inside the Leukemia cell. Are there missing chromosomes, or rearranged chromosomes? And if there are, that can be very relevant to the prognosis. And lastly, it’s sent for a particular mutations or markers. So, we look for IDH3 mutations, we look for FLT3 mutations, we look for IDH1 and IDH2 mutations, and we do an entire myeloid panel. Which is about 44/45 genes that are most commonly mutated in patients with AML.  

So that’s the initial work up for any AML patient. 

Katherine:

You mentioned markers Dr. Ritchie. What is genomic, or bio marker testing? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, we’re looking really at most specifically at mutations inside individual genes that might be in your Leukemia cell. So, there are some mutations actually that confer a better prognosis. Like NPM1 or CEPBA, those can be more positive type of prognosis than some of the others.  

But we’re also looking for markers that might be targetable with certain therapies that we have. So, if you have a FLT3 ITD or TKD, we actually have particular drugs which can target those particular mutations. There are also drugs that are FDA approved to treat IDH1 and IDH2 mutations. 

There are certain mutations that have a relatively poor prognosis, like TP53 for which there are clinical trials which are available, which specifically are meant to target patients who have those sorts of mutations. And there’re other clinical trials using the FDA approved drugs that I just mentioned, for FLT3, for IDH1 and IDH2 and combining it with other agents to try and improve outcome in AML patients. 

Katherine:

Some patients may not know if they’ve received these important tests, so what key questions should they be asking their physician about testing? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, physicians, they – financial coverage of the mutational testing is not uniform across the country and across insurances. So, Medicare and different Medicare insurances and some of the private insurances all vary in their coverage.  

So, in my clinic, I am asking – I prefer the test that we do in house at Cornell. But it’s important that I ask, what will their insurance cover. And make sure that I send the appropriate testing that will be covered by insurance. There are some insurances that will not cover this type of testing. So, it is a real question for the patient, when you go to see the doctor to say, are you going to do mutational NGS testing?  

And, will my insurance cover this? Hopefully most – if Medicare adopts the coverage of these types of mutational testing, it’s often true that private insurance will eventually pick this up. But it’s a murky field and it’s really important to talk to your doctor about this. The cost of the bone marrow biopsy, and the chromosomal evaluation is nearly always covered by insurance.  

Katherine:

Okay, that’s really great advice, thank you. How do the results of these tests affect prognosis and treatment? 

Dr. Ritchie:

Well, when a patient has AML, if they are a fit patient, if it will help us determine after initial induction, whether to cure the patient we need to do a bone marrow transplant, or we can just continue with chemotherapy.  

And those are really important things to determine. So, if you have a good prognosis AML, if you have an AML that has certain translocations like inversion 16 or 821, or if you have a CEPBA mutation or you have an NPM1 mutation, and that’s all you have, you may do particularly well with chemotherapy treatment alone. And you won’t need to have a bone marrow transplant. 

If you have certain other mutations, we know that the only way that we’re going to cure you, is with a bone marrow transplant. And if you are fit, when we finish induction and even as we’re doing induction, we’re preparing you for a bone marrow transplant down the line.  

One disadvantage, just to mention about the molecular testing, is it doesn’t come back as quickly as some of the other testing. So that you will have already started induction chemotherapy most generally before the mutational testing comes back. Which can be anywhere – depending upon the institution, between seven and 21 days. So, it takes time for those results to be available.  

Katherine:

Outside of test results Dr. Ritchie, what other factors should be considered when choosing treatment? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, you want to choose whether a patient is most likely to benefit from intense induction chemotherapy. With strong chemotherapies where the backbone of those therapies would be an anthracycline, like Daunorubicin or Cytarabine, or Daunorubicin or Idarubicin, together with Cytarabine. And these are intensive chemotherapies. Versus, non-intensive chemotherapy which is able to be done as an outpatient, more frequently. And it is something that is gentler for a patient, they’re less likely to have severe toxicity. And the backbone of those regimens is using a drug called Azacitidine or Decitabine, together with a second drug called Venetoclax. 

So, these are the two backbones, there may be clinical trials or there may be targetable aspects of your Leukemia, which drugs would be added to either of those backbones. But those are the two backbones. And I also like to identify those patients that may not benefit from chemotherapy at all. And so, it’s very important, I think to really get to know your patient. And I spend time with my patient, particularly on the first visit, to understand not only their physical health, but their mental health. How good is their cognition, what is their mood, are they depressed, or are they happy people? And what is their circumstance? Do they have people to support them? Do they live close to family? Is a caregiver able to come, with an elderly patient for example, to visits? 

Those, and whether or not they’re living alone and need tremendous support. So that’s really important to determine and helps me to choose what the best therapy might be. And also, concurrently what I can do to shore up the patient to do better with whatever therapy that I’m giving them. I.E., if you’re depressed, let’s work on that, or if your blood pressure is too high, or if you are – your diabetes is out of control at the same time that I’m seeing you, to try and fix those particular problems. In older patients I often do sort of a miniature version of the geriatric assessment. And in trials that have been so far, the most important aspects of the geriatric assessment, are really what is your cognitive function? Do have a mild dementia or do you not have a mild dementia? Because dementia may be or mild dementia may be associated with poorer outcome. 

The other is, are you able to do what we call the incidental tasks of daily life. So, you know fundamental tasks are really brushing your teeth and combing your hair, and dressing yourself. But are you able to do your cooking and your shopping and your banking and those things? Patients who have trouble doing their cooking and shopping and banking, and those types of activities, that also has been associated with a poor overall survival in AML. So, it’s really important to determine all of those aspects and if there are any deficiencies, to really know that the only therapeutic choice for that particular patient would be a low-intensity therapy. 

Katherine:

You touched upon this earlier, but what targeted therapies or treatments are available for AML patients? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, there have been many recent FDA approvals of drugs that are targeted. One, is the FLT3 inhibitors. And the two that are available are Midostaurin, which is most commonly – was the first drug that was really added to intensive chemotherapy. 

And clinical trials show that in those FLT3 positive population that patients had an overall better outcome if Midostaurin were added to intensive chemotherapy. There’s also a drug called gilteritinib, and this drug is also a FLT3 inhibitor that was tested in patients who had refractory leukemia. They could either get real chemotherapy regimen or they could get gilteritinib. And it turns out in the FLT3-positive patients, the gilteritinib was superior to the strong chemotherapy. So that’s been approved for patients who have refractory, or disease that didn’t really respond to initial therapy, that is IDH – or is FLT3 positive.  

Then there’s the IDH1 and IDH2 inhibitors that have also been approved, and a small proportion of AML patients will be positive for IDH1 or IDH2 mutations. 

The IDH1 inhibitor Ivosidenib, is available and can be used to treat patients if you know up front, they have an IDH1 inhibitor. So, that’s a regimen where the single agent can be used to treat an IDH1 mutated patient who’s newly diagnosed. Those patients are also eligible for many clinical trials now, where they’re combining that particular drug with other agents, in an effort to improve outcome. For IDH2 positive patients, there’s a drug called Enasidenib. And this drug is used mainly in patients in the second line setting. But it specifically targets IDH2. And patients go into remission sometimes for a prolonged period of time. So, these drugs are FDA approved, and they’re treating targetable mutations.  

TP53 mutations are a particularly bothersome mutation because it confers a poor outcome. And I’m happy to say that we have clinical trials now that are available that actually target TP53 mutations.  

So, there are – there is therapy available for that type of mutation that was not available before through the clinical trials. And I expect in coming years that we’re gonna see more and more targeted therapies develop in AML which can be used potentially in combination with what we’re already using as backbones to enhance the outcome of patients with this disease. 

Katherine:

Well, how do targeted therapies work? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, targeted therapies work on – it’s sort of complicated. The targets which are available, IDH or the FLT3 is really on the outside of the cell and it is a drug which is targeted directly to the FLT3 on the outside of the cell. 

It works quite well in the peripheral blood, where you see the blast oftentimes disappear. The big concern always is how well it’s working getting deep into the marrow. But it’s looking at the target on the outside of the cell. IDH1 and IDH2 inhibitors work on particular chemicals which are involved in the kreb cycle, and those of you that took high school chemistry may have memories buried in the deep parts of your brain of learning the kreb cycle. And this is a fundamental metabolic cycle inside cells, and if you have a mutation, an IDH1 or IDH2, you’re unable to go through that full kreb cycle in the appropriate way. And that is something that leads to you having a cancer, in this case AML. So, these drugs actually interfere with what’s happening in that kreb cycle, and allow you to make more normal cells. 

Katherine:

You mentioned earlier Dr. Ritchie, low-intensity therapy. Could you tell us about the types of treatment options? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, I’ll go – high-intensity therapy or intense chemotherapy always has to be given really in a hospital. And if you don’t start it – if you can start certain intensive chemotherapies, like Vyxeos, which is also intensive, in the outpatient setting, but by day seven or eight, you end up in the hospital. And in intensive chemotherapies, you lose your hair, there’s GI toxicities, you’re at high risk of developing infections and you need a lot of transfusion. And for even young people, it’s a difficult therapy for which you’re in the hospital, and 90-some percent of patients are on IV antibiotics. 

So, it’s intensive chemotherapy because it has to be given in a hospital setting and requires intensive supportive care. Low-intensity therapy can be given in the outpatient setting. So, at the present time you can get a drug like Azacitidine, for example, which is an injection that you get seven days in a row. Unfortunately, you have to come to the doctor’s office every day for those injections, but once you’ve had the injection, you can go home. Combined with Venetoclax which is an oral agent. So, an oral agent can be given at home. You need close supervision in the physician’s office when you’re on this type of therapy, but you don’t need the constant support that you need if you are getting intensive chemotherapy. So, it can be done, in the comfort really of your home and with your family. You will have to come in and have transfusions potentially as an outpatient, nearly everyone does. And there’s always the risk that you develop a fever and if you do, you have to come into the hospital for IV antibiotics. 

But in general, low-intensity means not so much support needed in a hospitalized setting, and the tolerability of this particular chemotherapy in the outpatient setting.  

Katherine:

Once a patient has begun treatment, how do you monitor whether it’s working? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, one of the more frustrating things about being an AML patient, is you don’t know right off the bat whether or not that you have gone into remission. So, what happens is you receive the chemotherapy, and the day you start chemotherapy is really day one. And somewhere around day 14, you’re at your lowest point. So, your blood counts are low, and you often feel really terrible, and you really wonder, is this working? But unfortunately, I can’t really tell you. Some institutions do bone marrow biopsies if you have intensive chemotherapy on day 14, or if you’re getting Venetoclax therapy somewhere around day 21 to look and see whether they still see Leukemia cells, but the utility of that is different per institution.  

The real test of whether chemotherapy x`, is at the end of about 28-35 days, are your blood counts coming up, and are you making normal blood cells. Are you making platelets, which are the part of the blood that clots the blood? Or are you making neutrophils, which are the important cells needed to help you fight infection. So, the real proof of a remission, is are your platelets over 100,000? Is your neutrophil count over 1,000? And when we look in the bone marrow around that time, do we see normal cells developing and no Leukemia? 

Katherine:

How often should testing take place? And should patients be retested over time? 

Dr. Ritchie:

So, the bone marrow biopsy is done frequently once you have a diagnosis of Acute Leukemia. So certainly, it’s done upon diagnosis of the disease. 

And as I mentioned earlier in certain institutions, about halfway through your chemotherapy cycle, they’ll do a bone marrow biopsy to see whether or not they see any residual Leukemia cells. That’s not done everywhere, and it’s done differently depending upon institutions sometimes. At the end of the chemotherapy treatment, if you recover your blood counts, we do a bone marrow biopsy to confirm a remission. If by day 35, we haven’t seen that your blood counts are recovering, we may do a bone marrow biopsy to see whether or not we see Leukemia cells in there, or early recovery. So, you’re definitely going to have bone marrows at those time points. If you’ve gone into remission, it depends on what we’d do next as to when you would have another bone marrow biopsy. So, if you’re going to bone marrow transplant you may have one more biopsy, just prior to going into transplant, and another biopsy at the end of the first month after transplant. 

If you’re gonna have what we call ongoing therapy, roughly every three or four months, we may do a bone marrow biopsy to determine whether or not the remission is holding. If during ongoing therapy, we see that there is blood count abnormalities that we weren’t expecting, that might be a reason that we would do a bone marrow biopsy. And that’s unpredictable as to when that would be.  

Katherine:

Dr. Ritchie, what advice do you have for patients to help them feel more confident in speaking up and advocating, being a partner in their care? 

Dr. Ritchie:

Well, when you choose a Leukemia doctor, you need to choose someone that you can actually communicate with. Someone who you feel is not allowing you to ask questions, or is not curious about what your life is like, you may wanna think, I wanna check out somebody else.  

Because it’s really important you like the person who’s your doctor, and that you have a trust relationship together. So, it’s really – I tell some patients it’s a marriage of convenience that we have. And that you really have to think of it that way. If someone doesn’t allow you to ask questions or if they are not fully answering your questions in a way that you understand, try and speak up for yourself and make sure that the doctor tries to address that. And if the doctor won’t address those things for you, or you feel like you don’t understand what is being explained to you, then you can think about trying to see someone else. I think it’s really important if you can, to write down as many questions as you have about your disease before you come in. 

Because often what happens is you get there, you’re stunned by the amount of information, and the questions you wanted to ask, you forget. And the next day, you’re like, ugh, I didn’t ask these questions. So, before you come in, if you write questions. Questions about insurance coverage, that may not be something that we go over. Or questions about toxicities, or questions, if I’m gonna lose my hair, do you have the name of a wig facility. All these questions that you might have, put them on a piece of paper, so that they can be addressed when you’re with the doctor. And other things will come up, you’ll have other questions when you’re there, but make sure your fundamental questions are answered. 

Katherine:

Yeah, those are great suggestions. We have a couple of audience questions. Mike wants to know, what does it mean to have high-risk AML? 

Dr. Ritchie:

High-risk AML means that there is something in your chromosomes that are worrisome and may confer a worse outcome. Or that one of the mutations that you have, or the combination of mutations that you have and the genetic testing are poor risk mutations that are associated with poor outcome. So, high-risk, really means a high risk of progression, or a high risk of – it’s a high risk of not going into remission and not being treatable AML. So, these are AMLs we treat aggressively, and if we get a patient into remission, we generally send high-risk patients to a bone marrow transplant. 

Katherine:

The second question is from Craig, he says; I’m currently undergoing treatment for AML, is the Covid-19 vaccine safe and effective? 

Dr. Ritchie:

I recommend the Covid-19 vaccine to everyone, all my patients. A little immunity is better than none. And there is preliminary data, looking at patients with Myeloid malignancies, not Lymphoid, but Myeloid malignancies, where it appears there is an immune response to the Covid-19 vaccine. So, I would suggest that you get the Covid-19 vaccine. Any of them that are available, are good. Whether it’s Moderna, or Pfizer, or Johnson and Johnson. Whatever is available to you, you should go ahead and get. 

Katherine:

Are there any symptoms or issues that AML patients should be looking for post-vaccine? 

Dr. Ritchie:

Post-vaccine, there’s a lot of symptoms that people have. And they can be similar among Myeloid patients. Some of my patients have had no reaction whatsoever, some people have had a really sore arm. 

Some patients are incredibly tired after the vaccine; some patients develop a low-grade fever for a couple of days. Those are really what we watch for. Sometimes when there’s a reaction, we’re hopeful that there’s an antibody being made, or an immune response that’s developing. So, it’s not always a bad thing if you have a reaction. But I don’t think that the reactions of patients of Myeloid malignancies is any different than that of the general public. 

Katherine:

That’s what it sounds like. To close Dr. Ritchie, what would you like to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful about the future of AML treatment? 

Dr. Ritchie:

I’m very hopeful. I’ve worked in this field for 15 years and through the 15 years we have seen a lot of new drugs that have been approved for AML. It’s remarkable, the FLT3 inhibitors, IDH1 and IDH2 inhibitors, new formulations of intensive chemotherapy, like Vyxeos, the Pfizer drug; glasdegib – I can never say that one. And most importantly, venetoclax, which has really revolutionized our treatment of low-risk, or not low-risk, but the low intensity patient. 

I see in the future that there is gonna be more – there’s an emphasis on immunotherapy, so I think we’re gonna see more antibody-based therapy that’s going to be approved by the FDA. Maybe it will be used in combination with the drugs that we are already using. There are all sorts of combinations using all the FDA approved drugs in different ways together. So, we can maybe do better with the drugs that we have. And there’s always new targeted drugs which are being tested in AML. So, I think as time goes on, from a molecular perspective it will be even more targeted. And I’m hoping also that there will be oral formulations of a lot of our drugs. So, it’s kind of exciting that there’s an oral form of Decitabine called Inqovi, which is something that could potentially be given in induction therapy right off the bat with Venetoclax for an all-oral regimen at home. 

All of these things are great advances, in my opinion, and I think that the opportunity to treat patients outside the hospital, with more targeted therapy and immunotherapy is gonna be the future. 

Katherine:

Yeah. And the future sounds promising. Thank you so much for joining us today Dr. Ritchie. 

Dr. Ritchie:

Thank you for having me. 

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners.  

To learn more about AML, and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell, thanks for joining us.