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What Should You Know About Emerging Myeloma Treatment Options? Resource Guide

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What Should You Know About Emerging Myeloma Treatment Options?

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What Should You Know About Emerging Myeloma Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With myeloma treatment and research advancing quickly, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest therapies. Myeloma expert Dr. Jeffrey Matous reviews new and emerging myeloma treatment approaches, how these therapies work, as well as the potential risks and benefits of each option. Dr. Matous also shares resources for learning about myeloma and how to access better care.

Dr. Jeffrey Matous is a myeloma specialist at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute and the assistant chair in myeloma research for Sarah Cannon Research Institute. Learn more about Dr. Matous.

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Related Resources:

What Are the Phases of Myeloma Treatment

What Is CAR T-Cell Therapy for Myeloma?

Tools for Choosing Myeloma Therapy

Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today’s webinar is about advances in myeloma treatment and how emerging therapies may affect your care decisions.  

Before we get into discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Jeffrey Matous. Dr. Matous, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Matous:

Thank you very much, Katherine. I’m Dr. Jeff Matous, and I am physician at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute, and also, the Assistant Chair in Myeloma Research for Sarah Cannon Research Institute here in Colorado. 

Katherine:

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

Dr. Matous:

It’s a pleasure. 

Katherine:

Before we get into our discussion, would you share with the audience how the field of myeloma has changed over the course of your career? 

Dr. Matous:

It’s unbelievable. I mean, I started treating myeloma back in the days of VAD, vincristine (Oncovin), doxorubicin (Adriamycin), dexamethasone (Decadron) 96-hour pumps with 40 pounds of dexamethasone that we put into patients, and wow. We didn’t have much else. We didn’t know how long to treat people, and then, in the 2000s, we have the revolution of all the new therapies, and it just keeps going and going and going. It really is an exciting to be in this field. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Let’s begin by sharing some advice for navigating myeloma care on a basic level. First, what testing should take place following a myeloma diagnosis? 

Dr. Matous:

Well, I think even before that, Katherine, I always tell my patients that an educated patient, like the people that are on this webinar, are the best patients, and so, when I meet a patient for the first time, we spend a lot of time educating patients even before we delve into a lot of the testing. 

And I refer them to excellent resources out there. Examples of these are the International Myeloma Foundation, or the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.  

There are others, of course, and so I really encourage my patients. In fact, I usually show them how to navigate these sites. And then, we get into testing, and testing in myeloma is multifaceted, because myeloma can affect patients in so many different ways. For example, it involves radiology studies to look for bone disease, urine work to see if the kidneys are affected by myeloma, a lot of blood work, and then, we also do a lot of testing to make sure that we understand the whole health of the patient, because that comes into play so much when we’re making treatment decisions in myeloma. 

Katherine:

Yeah. What factors impact treatment decisions? 

Dr. Matous:

Well, there are so many. One of the key ones is fitness, and fitness is a term that myeloma doctors use and rely on tremendously. 

And fitness, more or less, falls into a couple different categories. It’s more complex than that, obviously, but generally speaking, it’s too old or too frail, or young and vigorous and I stress to my patients that vigorous or frail is not determined by chronological age. It’s determined by your physiologic age. That’s really critical, so determining what your patient’s overall fitness is, is really important in myeloma. And then, we have to assess the risk of myeloma. I think we’ll talk about this a little bit later, because not all myeloma is the same and we treat myelomas differently depending on risk, certainly. And then, patient preference is a huge part, because there are so many ways to treat myeloma these days that we explore options with the patients and sometimes patients have pretty strong opinions about, you know, one type of treatment or the other, for example. 

Katherine:

What advice do you have for patients and caregivers related to working with their healthcare team in choosing a therapy? 

Dr. Matous:

Yeah. I think the big thing is to do some research on your own, but really, ask questions when you see your physician. I mean, ask questions about, for example, what are my treatment options? Are there clinical trials that might be available to me? What’s on the cutting edge in myeloma? What are the standard therapies? What are the pros and cons? And a question I often counsel patients to ask when they’re seeking other opinions is if you had 100 people like me and you treated them this way, how many would do well and how many would not do so well, and prognosis, and so forth. And then, the other thing I think is really important sometimes is gauging how experienced your physician is in treating myeloma, because we actually have data that shows that patients who are treated in myeloma centers actually fair a little better than those who are not. 

Involving a myeloma expert in your care doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get your care at that center. It just means you may want a myeloma expert on your team. Pretty much every doctor I know welcomes a myeloma person on their team, because the field is so rapidly evolving. It’s really hard to keep up with for a lot of people. 

Katherine:

Yeah. That’s great advice, Dr. Matous. Thank you. Stem cell transplant is often considered for myeloma patients. Can you talk about who this treatment option might be appropriate for? 

Dr. Matous:

Absolutely, so we’ve known for decades that, what I call high-dose chemotherapy, also called stem cell transplant, is a very effective and very potent treatment of myeloma and we’ve shown that time and time again in clinical trials, including some recent ones that are published just in 2022.  

And so, high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant is not for everyone. You have to be fit enough to undergo it, and this is not age determined. It’s fitness determined. And then, a lot of people live a long way from centers that perform high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. 

If patients have to travel hundreds of miles, then sometimes that comes into play. Hey, I just can’t do this. I can’t get the time off, and uproot, and bring a caregiver, and travel 300 miles to get this care, so sometimes that comes into play. Physician bias definitely comes into play. We know that some physicians are stronger proponents of high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, and I fall into that category, but we have other physicians that may not even bring it up as an option to their patients. We know, for example, that African Americans and other minorities are notoriously under-referred for high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. A lot of decisions go into that, and again, this is one of those situations where if you’re transplant-eligible, that means you’re young and vigorous, and on paper, a candidate. You want to go, at the very minimum, consult with physicians that do high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant and hear about that option. 

Katherine:

Yeah. You mentioned high-risk myeloma earlier. How do you determine if a patient is high risk or low risk? 

Dr. Matous:

Absolutely, so this is not uniformly agreed upon among myeloma doctors, but in general, we assess risk based on a few different things. One is called staging, and we stage myeloma unlike any other cancer, so it’s not staged like breast cancer, or lung cancer, or prostate cancer. It’s staged according to something called R-ISS, RISS, and you get, basically, a one, two, or a three.  

Those are your stages, and in general, if your stage three, you have higher risk disease, but even more than that, we’re beginning to understand how myeloma cells misbehave at the genetic level, and we know that there are certain genetic findings inside the myeloma cell that can convey higher risk features. It’s important to stress to patients that these are not genetic findings that they were born with or can pass on through hereditary. 

These are findings that occurred during the life of the patient that occurred by chance and developed inside that cell that turned into myeloma, and those are the genetic changes that we’re talking about. And we know that certain of these genetic changes confer higher risk disease. And in general, Katherine, if I see 100 people with myeloma, about 85 of the 100 will fall into what I call a standard risk category and about 15 percent will fall into what we call the high-risk category. 

Katherine:

Okay. That’s really good to know. Thank you. There are several treatment classes for myeloma, such as immunomodulatory therapy and proteasome inhibitors, for example. And they’re often used together.  

So, what is a combination therapy and why is it used so frequently for myeloma?  

Dr. Matous:

Absolutely, so with learned over the years in myeloma that combining different types of drugs that work in different ways, we call those classes, so different classes of drugs, combining them together is the optimal treatment for myeloma. 

And back in the day, we used to use two drugs. Then, we learned that three drugs are better than two drugs, and now, we have data that four drugs are better than three drugs. And so, we bring in drugs from all kinds of different categories for our patients. And we even know that for the non-transplant-eligible patients, for the older patients, for example, that combining drugs from different classes is really, really important to get the best outcomes. And in general, the three classes that we use – the four classes that we use when we’re treating myeloma patients initially include the immunomodulatory drugs, and examples of those are lenalidomide, also called Revlimid. pomalidomide, also called Pomalyst.  

Thalidomide’s (Thalomid) an older drug, but we still occasionally use it.  

And then, we have the proteasome inhibitors. Examples of those are bortezomib (Velcade), carfilzomib (Kyprolis), and to a much lesser extent, there’s one called ixazomib (Ninlaro). And these days, we know that CD38 antibodies are really important and really getting their foothold into the initial treatment of myeloma.  

Examples of CD38 antibodies are daratumumab (Darzalex) or isatuximab. And then, usually, we combine these treatments with steroid medicines to sort of increase the effectiveness of the regiments. That’s how – those are the classes that we use when we’re treating myeloma. 

Katherine:

Okay and have you learned about adding one treatment to another to another through clinical trials or is trial and error? 

Dr. Matous:

Absolutely. We would not be where we are right now without the conduct of clinical trials. I always tell my patients by the time something’s approved in myeloma, and we had things approved in 2022, the field is already moving past that in clinical trials. It’s unbelievable. So, I’ll give you an example. When daratumumab, one of these antibodies, got approved by the FDA, already when it got approved by the FDA, we knew through clinical trials that were being conducted that combining it with other types of medicines was far more potent. 

And we have countless examples of this, so yeah. Absolutely, so every treatment that we use in myeloma, we discovered and developed through a clinical trial. And I always encourage my patients strongly to consider clinical trials, and then, we have to explain, because when patients hear clinical trials, and I could be deviating a little bit here, Katherine.  

They often think about experimentation and testing things that are unproven. In myeloma, we occasionally do that, but far and away, the overwhelming majority of our clinical trials are testing agents that we know are effective. We’re just trying to figure out what the best combination is and make sure that it’s safe for patients. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Dr. Matous, some of our viewers may have already been through some therapy at some level. Let’s dive into new and emerging treatment. CAR T-cell therapy has been approved for myeloma patients and it’s certainly a hot topic right now. Can you tell us about this treatment and who it might be right for? 

Dr. Matous:

Absolutely, so these T-cell therapies in myeloma are really exciting, and basically, how they work is T cells are cells that normally, in our body, they’re part of our immune system. When they see something foreign, usually, it’s a foreign infection or some kind. T cells go into kill mode and take out the foreign invader, and they’re supposed to do this with cells that are thinking about turning into cancer, but for various reasons, cancer cells can escape the T cells, and then, kind of brainwash the new system to say, hey. It’s okay if we coexist with you. No big deal. We’ll just hang out together. Okay? And that’s not okay. And so, in CAR T-cell therapy, what we do is we take the patient’s T cells.  

We remove them from the blood with a procedure called apheresis, which is a machine that many patients might be familiar with through their stem cell collections. 

It’s the same machine. And we collect these T cells. Then, they go to a laboratory where they are genetically modified in the laboratory using very sophisticated techniques to become myeloma killers. And we tell – we educate the T cells to become myeloma killers. We grow them up in sufficient numbers, and then, we return them to the patient. We just, basically, put them back in the patient’s bloodstream in the vein and they go and they are really effective at killing myeloma cells. And that’s CAR T-cell therapy, so it’s an amazing immune therapy. It’s way more complicated than I laid out, of course, but that’s the general thought behind it. 

Katherine:

What are the risks of this therapy? 

Dr. Matous:

Absolutely, so we have a lot of patients who come and ask about CAR T-cell therapy and think that it’s the same thing as getting daratumumab in the clinic or carfilzomib in the clinic.  

Get it and you’re on your way. Far from that, and so, CAR T-cell therapy has a lot of risks. The risks fall into a few different categories. The first risk is called CRS, which doesn’t stand for what you think it stands for. It stands for Cytokine Release Syndrome. This occurs when the T cells recognize the myeloma cell and kill it, and when they do this, a lot of substances get released in the body that can cause a lot of symptoms, like fever, or low blood pressure, or low oxygen, and this requires specialized management to shepherd people through this.  

This almost always occurs in about the first week of the treatment after the patients receive the CAR-T cells. In addition, patients who receive CAR-T cells can have what’s called neurologic toxicity that falls into many different categories. It can be something as simple as a headache, or a transient or temporary difficulty, you know, saying words or being confused, or in the most severe situation, even a seizure. 

This requires a lot of close monitoring for neuro toxicity. In addition, we know that patients that get CAR T-cell therapy are, for quite a while after they receive the CAR-T cells, an increased risk for infection. It’s very suppressing of the immune system, immunosuppressive. And lastly, a lot of our patients who go through CAR T-cell therapy have low blood counts for a long time and they have to be monitored for this, might need transfusions, or some different therapies. It’s a complicated therapy for sure. 

Katherine:

Yeah, so what questions should patients be asking their doctor when considering CAR T-cell therapy? 

Dr. Matous:

I think the first thing, of course, is am I a candidate, because the commercially approved CAR-T cells, there are very specific criteria for who’s a candidate, who could receive it. Okay, and then, you want to know, one, if you’re a candidate. Two, what the risks and benefits are. 

Three, are there alternatives besides CAR T-cell therapy. Is it too early or too late to do this? Should we think about maybe another clinical trial or one of the T-cell redirecting antibodies, for example? You want to ask those questions for sure. These treatments are tremendously expensive, of course, and so that may come into play, as well. You want to know what the experience of the center is with CAR T-cell therapy, I think, and then, you also want to know are there clinical research studies for which you might be eligible to have CAR-T cells, not just commercially available ones, because we have two that are commercially available right now, and we have scores of CAR T-cell treatments that are still in clinical trial. [22:32] 

Katherine:

Yeah. Well, thank you for that, Dr. Matous. 

I know many viewers will appreciate all of this information. Let’s switch gears now to another therapy we’ve been hearing about; bispecific antibodies. One has been recently approved for myeloma, teclistamab, so let’s start with what are bispecific antibodies and who might they be right for? 

Dr. Matous:

And strap on your seatbelt, because there’s a whole bunch of them coming, I think, for approval. So, the T-cell redirecting antibodies, it’s a different strategy for trying to get your T cells, the patient’s T cells, to attack the myeloma cells. And in CAR T-cell therapy, it’s a single infusion. That’s the treatment. And the bispecific antibodies that I often call T-cell redirecting antibodies, because they redirect the T cells to the myeloma cell, these are given over a continuous period and it might as long as you tolerate it, as long as it’s working. It might be for a year. And they are given either under the skin as a subcutaneous injection, or in the vein. 

And there are many, many different of these T-cell redirecting antibodies, the bispecific antibodies. How they work, I just do this with my patients. I hold up my hand and I say the bispecific antibodies have two hooks on them, and one hook recognizes the T cell and latches onto the T cell, and the other hook latches onto the myeloma cell. And then, what it does, it brings the T cell in proximity to the myeloma cell. Then, the T cell says “Oh, aha. I’m supposed to kill this myeloma cell,” and usually does it. Now, the part that connects the T cell and these bispecific antibodies is always the same. It’s CD3. However, the part that sticks on the myeloma cell, there are different targets, and you referred to teclistamab (Tecvayli), which was approved by the FDA, and that attaches to something on the outside of a myeloma cell called BCMA, BCMA. 

But we know that other bispecific antibodies that can attach to different markers or antigens on the outside of the myeloma cell and affect the same change, and so, I think these are going to be coming fast and furious. 

Katherine:

Who’s this class of treatment right for? 

Dr. Matous:

I think – well, again, the FDA approval right now is for people who have seen pretty much everything. You know, you’ve had a lot of treatments. You’ve seen all the different classes of the myeloma drugs, but in our clinical research trials right now, we’re testing these as an initial therapy, in second-line therapy, after stem cell transplants. They’re being tested pretty much in every scenario right now in clinical trials, so right now, it’s when you’ve exhausted the normal treatments and you’re considering CAR T-cell therapy, or you’re considering getting treated with a drug called selinexor (Xpovio), or looking at another clinical trial. That’s when it’s the time to ask about the bispecific antibodies. 

Katherine:

What are the risks and benefits of this therapy?  

Dr. Matous:

The risks are pretty similar to the risks from CAR T-cell therapy, so Cytokine Release Syndrome. That usually occurs during the first week. Neurologic toxicity is, I think, less frequent with the bispecific antibodies, but infections and low blood counts definitely a concern with these bispecific antibodies, requires a lot of monitoring without any doubt.  

Now, the other thing about the bispecific antibodies, there’s, right now, they’ve been in the realm of the larger centers, so myeloma centers is where people have been getting these bispecific antibodies, but there’s absolutely no question in my mind that these bispecific antibodies are going to be available through almost every general hematology, oncology practitioner’s office, but not for a while. The docs that aren’t used to giving these medicines are a little – they’re being quite cautious rolling them out in their practices right now. There are still a lot of questions as these roll out, and so, right now, I think teclistamab is still largely unavailable outside myeloma centers, but that’s going to change, I think, even over 2023 and definitely into 2024. 

Katherine:

Okay. That’s really good news. For patients who want to know more about bispecifics, what questions should they be asking their healthcare team? 

Dr. Matous:

Again, the same thing is – the same questions. Well, teclistamab is approved by the FDA. What other bispecifics are there? What about combinations? What about clinical trials? And then, that’s what you want to ask for sure. Then, how often do I need to come in the office? With teclistamab, the answer is weekly.  

If they say for how long, it’s until it quits working or you have side effects, and then you can’t take it anymore. That’s the way the FDA label is. And so, it’s a big commitment to go on these treatments, but they’re effective. You ask me about the effectiveness of these drugs and, essentially, all the studies with these different bispecifics, including teclistamab, have been studied initially in people who have seen every myeloma treatment. They’ve had an average of about six different myeloma treatments. 

They’ve seen all the drugs. They’re not working anymore. They’re in trouble. They’re in a pinch, and roughly, seven out of ten people have dramatic responses to these bispecifics when they’re treated, which we’ve never had anything like this at all in the myeloma world. 

Katherine:

Wow. Do the side effects go away at some point? 

Dr. Matous:

The side effects are completely manageable. Yeah and you can – by and large, you can adjust the bispecific, either the schedule or different things, to make these completely tolerable for patients. 

Katherine:

Okay. 

Dr. Matous:

Very few patients on our trials, with these bispecifics, who we have not been able to manage and, pretty much, handle all the – any side effect that occurs. 

Katherine:

Okay. That’s good. Are there other emerging myeloma therapies that patients should know about? 

Dr. Matous:

There are a bunch of other therapies. Looking at in myeloma, for sure, and a lot of these other therapies are – they’re exploring the same pathway where the proteasome inhibitors work, but in a little different way. 

And proteasome inhibitors, again, just to refresh your memory, are  Velcade or bortezomib, Kyprolis or carfilzomib, and there are different drugs that work in this area that are being explored. And also, for the immunomodulatory drugs, there are different what are called cell mod or cell-modifying drugs that are being developed. Also, at our recent hematology meeting last December where all the blood doctors get together, there was a lot of research presented looking at using different cells for attacking the myeloma, for bringing back an old friend, interferon, to fight the myeloma through a new sophisticated way. The field is just really going at breakneck speed right now. 

Katherine:

Where do clinical trials fit into myeloma care? 

Dr. Matous:

I’m biased, Katherine. I think in every step of your myeloma journey you should ask about a clinical trial, because clinical trials might be appropriate as initial therapy, second-line therapy, third-line therapy, post-transplant maintenance therapy. There are clinical trials available, pretty much, at every phase of myeloma care, and so, I think it’s important that you here about your clinical trial options when you’re talking with your physician. Now, for some folks, it’s going to be hard to get on a clinical trial. You might be a long way from a center that does very many clinical trials, but you should always, always ask about it and there are many resources for researching clinical trials that are out there, right? One example is you can call The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and they have counselors on the phone that can guide you toward clinical trials. You can go to clinicaltrials.gov. You’re paying for it. Might as well use it and search clinical trials there. It’s a pretty easy site to use, as well. 

My answer is at every phase of your journey, whenever you’re considering a treatment or a new treatment for myeloma, you want to know what your clinical trial options are. 

Katherine:

How can patients and care partners stay informed about the latest myeloma research? You mentioned a couple of websites. Are there others? 

Dr. Matous:

There are. There are a bunch of these that are out there, right? There’s the Myeloma Crowd. There’s – you know, this webinar. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in the Rocky Mountain area, we have, every year, a blood cancer conference that we put on free for patients through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that reviews new goings on in the field of myeloma, so there’s a lot of information out there and just a little bit of effort on the web. You can find great resources. Again, the ones I mentioned earlier I think are my top ones. Particularly, the IMF, the International Myeloma Foundation, because the physicians who run that and the people who run that, they made sure that everything that’s on there is entirely believable. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Okay. Let’s get to a few audience questions that we received before the webinar. Kendall writes, “I’m in the maintenance stage following initial diagnosis and treatment. At first relapse, is it appropriate to push for stronger treatment in hopes of a cure?” 

Dr. Matous:

Yeah, so the answer to that has changed. The answer is yes, and so, the – it used to be said in myeloma that your best treatment was your first treatment. Then, if you relapsed, that the treatments didn’t work as well, and the remissions did not last as long. Throw it out, so now, we get multiple chances to get really deep remissions in patients, and we should be every bit as greedy when we’re treating relapsed disease, at least initially, as we are when we treat disease at the very beginning. We know, for example, that there are many second-line therapies. I’ll just throw out some examples – daratumumab, pomalidomide dex, daratumumab Revlimid dex, daratumumab Velcade dex.  

Not to mention, the T-cell therapies that can put patients in remissions that are so deep that we can’t even find myeloma cells using very sophisticated molecular techniques, so be greedy. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Okay. Good advice. PEN community member, Greg, sent in this question. “Can you discuss any future or potential changes to using stem cell transplant for myeloma patients?” How would you counsel patients who do not want to pursue a transplant as a treatment option? 

Dr. Matous:

So, for stem cell transplant in myeloma, for years, it’s been the standard of care for suitable patients. And every couple years, I liken this to that game we used to play called King of the Hill growing up where stem cell transplants, King of the Hill, and everyone tries to knock stem cell transplant off the hill. And so far, it really hasn’t happened. And so, transplants still, I think, an important part of the overall care for suitable patients. 

For patients who are eligible and safe enough to undergo transplant. However, not all – now, will this be challenged in the future? And the answer is – I think the next challenger, and this will be a serious challenger, will be CAR T-cell therapy. And so, we have to figure out if CAR T-cell therapy or the bispecific antibodies are safe enough to give at the beginning and as effective as stem cell transplant and what the long-term side effects, how they might differ, as well, so that question is going to be tackled in the myeloma word, but it’s going to be several years until we have an answer there, for sure.  

So, for my patients who are otherwise candidates for stem cell transplant, but who don’t want to do it, usually, I’ll say, “You may change your mind in the future. In myeloma, it’s important to keep all your options open and you should at least discuss with the transplant center collecting and freezing away your stem cells for a rainy day to keep that option open to you.” So, even you’re thinking of not doing it, it might be a good idea, it probably is a good idea, to harvest and store your stem cells at a transplant center. 

And then, if you’re not going to do transplant up front, they key is to stay on prolonged maintenance therapy.  

We know that that’s one of the keys for making survival as long as possible in patients who don’t do a transplant is to continue on ongoing maintenance therapy as long as possible. Don’t curtail your therapy just because you’re not doing a transplant. 

Katherine:

Right. Okay. Well, thanks for that, Dr. Matous.  

Those were all great questions. Please continue to send them in to questtion@powerfulpatients.org and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs.  

So, Dr. Matous, as we close out the program, we’ve definitely learned that the field of myeloma is advancing very quickly. Would you share with us why you’re hopeful? 

Dr. Matous:

Yeah. It’s because for – I’ve been doing this quite a while and I always used to tell my patients if you just hang around. 

If you stay in the game, something else is going to come that we don’t even know what it is right now that’s going to impact your life, your quality of your life, the longevity of your life, and be a good treatment for you. And so far, that’s been the case. And right now, with the T-cell therapies, I’m really, really excited about how they can impact the cure of our patients. I also think that the basic research that’s going on in myeloma right now, and this is done by the real smart scientists, not the clinicians like me, but the really smart people that work in the laboratory. Learning how myeloma cells misbehave at very amazing levels, and when we learn that, it almost always results in a treatment that benefits our patients.  

And so, I think that we have every reason to be optimistic for our patients with myeloma, because of all the treatments that are coming out that we know about, that we know are around the corner, and for those that we don’t even have an idea what they are yet. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Well, it seems like there’s a lot to be hopeful about in myeloma care. Dr. Matous, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure. 

Dr. Matous:

Well, the pleasure’s been mine. I love talking to myeloma patients and I would just encourage you to keep getting all the information you can. The field’s moving really fast. Just keep up with it and don’t lose hope. 

Katherine:

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

Is There Financial Assistance for Myeloma Patients?

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Is There Financial Assistance for Myeloma Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Can myeloma patients access financial assistance for their care? Expert Dr. Benjamin Derman shares information about available support and resources to reduce the financial burden on patients.

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

Related Resources:

The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

How Can You Engage in Your Myeloma Treatment Decisions? Resource Guide

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

How Can Myeloma Patients Cope With Fatigue?

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Fatigue can have a big impact on daily life for people with myeloma, so how can this common symptom be managed? Expert Dr. Benjamin Derman shares insights about why fatigue occurs, advice about treatment timing, and recommended adjustments to optimize energy levels.

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

Myeloma Maintenance Therapy | What Patients Need to Know

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

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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What Are the Phases of Myeloma Treatment?

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

Yeah. 

Dr. Derman:

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

What Is Known About the Risk of Myeloma Relapse?

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

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

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Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined

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Transcript:

Katherine:  

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

Dr. Derman:  

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

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

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

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

What Are the Treatment Options for Relapsed/Refractory Myeloma?

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

Key Questions to Ask Your Myeloma Doctor About Induction Therapy

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

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Making Myeloma Treatment Decisions at Every Stage of Care

Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

What Factors Affect Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

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

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

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are Current Myeloma Treatment Approaches?

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

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What types of treatment are offered for myeloma patients?  

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

What’s the Latest in Emerging Myeloma Research?

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

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

Related Resources:

What Are Current Myeloma Treatment Approaches

Understanding Myeloma Treatment Types

What Emerging Myeloma Treatments Are Showing Promise

Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

Katherine:

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

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Can You Engage in Your Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

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

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

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

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See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Understanding Myeloma Treatment Types

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.  

Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Benjamin Derman. Dr. Derman, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?  

Dr. Derman:

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

Katherine:

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

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

Yeah. 

Dr. Derman:

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

Katherine:

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

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

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

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

Dr Derman:

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

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

Katherine:

Yeah.  

Dr. Derman:

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Derman:

Likewise. Thanks so much.  

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners.  

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

Myeloma Expert Gives an Overview of Novel Therapies

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Myeloma Expert Gives an Overview of Novel Therapies from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What novel multiple myeloma therapies are available for patients? Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi from the Mayo Clinic shares an overview of novel therapies of CAR T-cell therapy, monoclonal antibodies, bispecifics, and immunomodulators and discusses therapies currently in rapid development.

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

We are going to jump right into a discussion about some of the novel therapies that there is much buzz about right now, and it’s kind of an alphabet soup these novel therapies. I actually was trying to digest all of this information and divide it into the general categories.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but we have monoclonal antibodies, we have bispecific antibodies like the CAR-T therapies, and they target different things. We have BCMA, we have GPRC5D, FcRH5, we have things called antibody drug conjugates and cell mods. So, Dr. Ailawadhi, if you can just give us kind of a broad overview of these therapies and how they may be used to harness our immune system, and how they come into play when you’re treating your patients, how and when they come into play when treating your patients.

Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi:

Surely, so I think thanks a lot for bringing up that discussion, this is extremely important, and I think it’s most important because if a myeloma patient goes online and wants to search for information or research, these things start coming up this term start coming up. So it’s extremely important for a knowledgeable and empowered patient to learn about these, understand them, so that they are able to digest that information. And I should mention that a lot of what we’ll talk about about these particular treatments may not be applicable to newly diagnosed patients or a recently diagnosed patient, but this is important enough and exciting enough that I would want every single patient to pick up this information. Learn it hopefully, and maybe park it for now somewhere, so that hopefully down the road it becomes important and handy.

So you asked about monoclonals, bispecific, CAR-Ts, cell mols, etcetera. Let’s take a step back, let’s think about these as strategies to target myeloma. Myeloma treatment is going through a change where immunotherapy and harnessing the body’s own immune system is becoming extremely important, and when we do that, the immunotherapy is typically very targeted, so what these drugs these agents, these terms, this alphabet soup is doing is it is targeting specific markers on the myeloma cell on the plasma cell.

For example, one of the markers is CD38. There is a monoclonal antibody. There are actually two monoclonal antibodies. Daratumumab (Darzalex), rituximab (Rituxan) that are FDA-approved, but there are other ways of targeting CD38, for example, CD38 targeting CAR-T cells, CD38 targeting antibody drug conjugates, etcetera. So CD38 is one important part. A very, very, very important thing in the past one year or a year-and-a-half has been what’s called B-C-M-A, B cell maturation antigen. BCMA is another target on plasma cells. Very effective, very specific.

So there are many, many drugs that are available and becoming available to target BCMA. Right now, there are three drugs that are FDA-approved that can target BCMA. Two of them are CAR-T cells, a particular way of going after BCMA in which the body’s own T cells are collected. These are not stem cells, these are T cells, T lymphocytes, these T cells are collected, they are actually genetically modified to go and fight against the BCMA, and then those modified T cells are multiplied in the lab and given to the person as a drug, they go and seek the plasma cells because of BCMA kill them harnessing the body’s immune system.

So there are two CAR-T cells against BCMA, one called ide-cel (Abecma) and one called cilta-cel (Avekti). There has recently been available a bispecific antibody against BCMA, we call it bispecific because it connects to BCMA from one end and from a second it connects to the body’s T cells again, bring the T cells close to the plasma cells to kill them. Then bispecific antibodies called teclistamab (Tecvayli). And until recently there was another drug available against BCMA which was what’s called an antibody drug conjugate. This drug is called belantamab (Blenrep) for the timing, belantamab has been removed or withdrawn from the market in the U.S., but there are ongoing clinical trials and down the road, it may come back again.

Now, antibody drug conjugate is another way of targeting something in which there is a seeker for the BCMA in this case, and it has a payload of some kind of a toxin, so that when the drug connects to the plasma cell through the BCMA in this case, that toxin is released, it can kill the cell, so either we harness the body’s immune cells, the T cells by CAR-T or bispecific, or we kill the cell by releasing a toxic payload from a drug, antibody drug conjugate, these are all different methods of targeting the myeloma cell. So I talked to you about monoclonal bispecific CAR-T and ADC as different strategies, CD38 and BCMA, some of these strategies are available, but there are other targets which are very exciting and new drugs are being developed against them, two of the very interesting targets there one is called GPRC5D, and the other is FcRH5.

These GPR5CD or FcRH5 are two different targets on myeloma cells. No drugs are currently FDA-approved, but they are being developed very rapidly, and we have a couple of extremely promising agents which will be coming down the pipe. And you also mentioned something called cell mods. Cell mods are some newer drugs in the family of what’s called IMiDs or immunomodulators, in which our patients may be aware of thalidomide (Thalomid), lenalidomide (Revlimid), and pomalidomide (Pomalyst). The cell mods are kind of the same family, and there are a couple of them that are also being developed.

So why is this important for everybody, whether they are newly diagnosed or relapsed or long-term survivor with myeloma, because this tells you that not only are we getting newer drugs in the same classes, we are also getting brand new classes of drugs, and you can imagine that means that those brand new strategies are ways to target the plasma cell, we know cancer cells are smart and they develop invasive mechanisms to become resistant to drugs, but every time something gets resistant if we have a brand new mechanism to go against the disease, but that’s exciting because that’s why we are seeing deeper responses, even in very heavily pre-treated patients, because we are using newer specific, relatively safe, convenient strategies to going after the plasma cell.

I know that was a lot of information, but I hope this helps our listeners learn a little bit about what you rightly said is an alphabet soup, but I would like us to think about it as an exciting time for being a myeloma doctor, and certainly a very hopeful situation for all our patients. 

How Is Myeloma Treatment Response Measured?

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How Is Myeloma Treatment Response Measured? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Betsy O’Donnell reviews the terms that define myeloma treatment response, such as complete remission (CR) and partial remission (PR). Dr. O’Donnell goes on to discuss the new tools that are being used to monitor treatment effectiveness, including MRD (minimal residual disease).

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders.

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Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients

Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, Alex wrote in with this question. “What is the difference between a complete response, VGPR, and PR as it applies to prognosis and maintenance after an autologous stem cell transplant?” And before you answer the question, would you define VGPR and PR for us?   

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Sure. So, we have different criteria that help us understand how well a drug is working, and they’re uniformly used across clinical trials so that we’re all speaking the same language. And so we talk about a PR, a VGPR, and a CR. So, a CR is a complete response, which is 100 percent of that monoclonal protein that we initially detected is gone. We can’t measure it. Or if you have an elevated light chain, which is another piece of the protein, that has gone back down to normal. 

Taking that a step further, astringent CR is if we do a bone marrow biopsy and we can’t find any cancer plasma cells in there. A VGPR is where we see a 90 percent reduction in the amount of protein we can measure, and a PR is anything over – a partial response is anything over 50 percent. 

So, that’s a language we speak really just so that when we’re interpreting clinical trials, we all are using the same criteria. 

And so these are different terms that classify it. If the example that you gave, someone’s had a transplant, what would typically happen 100 days after that transplant is a patient would restart maintenance therapy.   

The classic maintenance is just lenalidomide (Revlimid), which is the pill that they were probably taking before that. And there’s a lot of controversy now but no good answers about changing therapy after a transplant, if you haven’t received a deep response. 

What we do know is that after a transplant, when someone goes on lenalidomide maintenance, they continue to respond. So, the greatest depth of response is not necessarily achieved in the induction phase or right immediately after transplant, but over time on maintenance. 

There’s another tool that we’re now using and incorporating, both in terms of how we assess treatment but also potentially in how we modify treatment, which is something called minimal residual disease, MRD, which goes a step beyond. When people have astringent CR, a CR, looking for really just traces of the disease on a molecular level.  

And all of those help us understand how well the patient has responded and how long that remission might last, but they’re not definitive in terms of how we should adjust treatment based on those right now. 

How Is Relapsed or Refractory Myeloma Managed?

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How Is Relapsed or Refractory Myeloma Managed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Drs. Irene Ghobrial and Betsy O’Donnell discuss next steps if myeloma relapse occurs or the disease doesn’t respond to treatment. The experts review the necessary tests following a myeloma relapse and how a treatment choice is determined.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders. 

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

We know that relapse can happen. Dr. Ghobrial, how common is relapsed or refractory disease? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, and, fortunately, we do have amazing remissions. We have very long remissions. Many people are living 10 years, 15 years and longer, which as Dr. Nadeem said, was not something we knew about years ago. I trained 20 years ago as a fellow, and myeloma was a survival of three to five years.  

We’ve come a long way, but we want to change that even better. We want a cure. We want to tell a patient, “You are done. You’re cured,” and we will not stop until that happens. So, when people have a progression again or relapse, then we want to consider what is the next available option. What is the best option to give them yet one more long, long remission? We are failing sometimes, and that’s because the disease is so bad, the biology of the disease is so bad, and the drugs that we’re using may not be the best drugs for that patient. 

And that’s why we need to understand better the biology and pick the right drugs for the right patient up front as much as we can, and also think about earlier treatment. We were just saying we probably have amazing drugs, but we’re waiting way too long until people have almost metastatic disease, and then we treat them. Why not think of an earlier interception when the disease is less mutated, when you have less cancer cells, a better immune system, and use your best drugs then? And hopefully we will achieve cure in many of those patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

What testing takes place after a relapse? Is it different than what has happened before, the testing that was done before? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

No, the same tests exactly. We sort of say it’s restaging. We check everything again – the bone marrow biopsy, the FISH, because you may now develop a 17p that was probably there, but the very, very small number of cells that you cannot detect, and now it grows because of something called chrono selection. The drugs kill the sensitive cells, but they don’t kill the bad cells, and that’s how we can get all of those changes and mutations.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. O’Donnell, is the process for choosing treatment different for a relapsed or refractory patient? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, that’s a great question. Yes, it can be. I mean, again, it always depends on how the person is doing at that time. It also depends, there are certain drugs that may not be approved in the front lines, something like venetoclax (Venclexta). If a person has a specific translocation, this 11;14, that’s something that we would like it in a second-line setting, for example. 

Usually one of the big questions people ask is if you’re on a specific class of drugs, should you change classes? So, this example is if you’re on lenalidomide (Revlimid), and you have evidence that your disease is progressing, should you change to a different type of drug? A proteasome inhibitor, monoclonal antibody? Should that include one of the same classes of drug, like pomalidomide (Pomalyst), which is the next generation? 

So, there are a lot of different factors that we consider. The number of drugs. So, you know, as Dr. Nadeem said, historically – there’s a lot of history in myeloma therapy, and it’s been an evolution, and so now we’ve had people who were treated with the three-drug combination that are starting, after many years, to progress. So, we might choose a monoclonal antibody for those patients because it wasn’t available at the time they were diagnosed. Versus patients now, who are typically on a four-drug regimen that includes those monoclonal antibodies and all the different classes of drugs. 

We’re looking at different and, if available, novel agents to put those patients on. And again, I think Dr. Nadeem made a really important point that I want to underscore, which is that very often our best therapies are available in clinical trials. And so when and if there is the opportunity to be on a clinical trial, you may be then able to get something that would not otherwise be available to you. So, I encourage people to always have an open mind to being on a clinical trial at any stage in their disease treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

What therapies are available for relapse or refractory disease? Are they different than other therapies? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

You know, so that’s a great question. So, yes and no. I highlighted one example that might be a little bit different, but in general, we’re very fortunate that we have multiple classes of drugs, meaning we have different drugs that work differently to kill your myeloma cells. And as Dr. Nadeem said earlier, we use those in combinations to increase the effectiveness of those medicines. Within each class we have a variety of drugs. 

You used the example of immunomodulators, and show that we have three different of those type of drugs.   

We have two different proteasome inhibitors. Beyond that, we have other classes of drugs that were mentioned. We have monoclonal antibodies, immunotherapies.  

And so very often we make, it’s almost like a mix where we pick what we think is going to be most effective, sometimes based on cytogenetics. The biology. Sometimes based on patient selection. What are their other medical problems, what are their current issues? And we pick the combination that we feel is going to be most effective from the different classes of drugs that we have together, usually trying to use multiple drugs in combination. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, what newer therapies are available or in development for refractory and relapsed disease? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I think that the greatest interest that I think we’re all most excited about is the immunotherapy space, and I think we’ve seen – for myeloma, we see that this is a relapsing and remitting disease. 

And what’s been so exciting about CAR-T cells and the bispecific antibodies is that in patients who have had, on average, five relapses, we’re seeing tremendous results. So, complete remissions or very good partial remissions that last. In fact, can last up to two years, on average, with one of our CAR T-cell products. 

So, this is really exciting, especially when you compare to what historically has been out there for patients who have had that many relapses. And just as Dr. Nadeem said, the way that drugs enter, they enter from the relapse refractory setting, ethically that’s what makes the most sense, and they march their way forward. And so that process is happening right now as we speak, and I think like Dr. Ghobrial talked about, is the importance in early disease of thinking about using these really exciting therapies in patients who have lower burdens of disease with a goal of cure. 

And so I think all of us on this call are committed to one thing, and that is curing multiple myeloma, and even the precursors that lead up to it so that patients never have to go through the process of years and years of therapy. And so I think we’re very excited about what immunotherapy might be able to offer as we move forward in myeloma treatment.