Tag Archive for: maintenance therapy

Understanding Relapse in Myeloma

Understanding Relapse in Myeloma  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are indicators that a myeloma patient has relapsed? Dr. Mark Schroeder explains how relapsed and refractory myeloma are monitored and treated. 

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What are the indicators that a patient’s disease may have relapsed?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, so we would typically be following a patient about every three months. Somebody that has gone through the initial induction, consolidation, maybe they’re on maintenance therapy, or maybe they’re on active therapy for after they have relapsed from a myeloma.  

Each of those visits every three months, we are monitoring bloodwork, we’re monitoring the monoclonal protein that the myeloma produces.  

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

Katherine Banwell:

I think you’ve already answered this, but I’m going to ask you in case you give different or more information. If a person is relapsed or refractory, how are they typically treated? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

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

What Are the Phases of Myeloma Treatment?

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

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

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

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Understanding Myeloma Treatment Types

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

What about consolidation therapy? What is that? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

Katherine Banwell:

And what about maintenance therapy? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

Does Maintenance Therapy Have a Role in AML Care?

Does Maintenance Therapy Have a Role in AML Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) expert Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani discusses the role of new and developing maintenance therapies that may improve remission and how this treatment phase may fit into the future of AML care.

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

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Transcript:

Laura Beth:

Dr. Ravandi, does maintenance therapy have a role in AML?  

Dr. Ravandi:

Maintenance therapy is something that has been used in other leukemias for a long time, and other types of cancer, particularly in ontological cancers. In AML, it hasn’t been normal practice, traditionally, mainly because in AML, we haven’t had many good relatively nontoxic, easily taken drugs.  

So, about 30 years ago, some groups, for example, a German group actually tried to do maintenance with cycles of chemotherapy, and you can imagine if a patient is in remission, and somebody says to you, “I’m going to give you cycles of chemotherapy for the next three years,” most patients wouldn’t take it because they say, “Well, you know, maybe I have three years to live. I want to go to Bahamas and be on the beach rather than getting cycles of chemotherapy.” But over the last several years, in a number of effective, highly effective oral agents that have been developed, and one specific agent that has been developed for maintenance. Now, this specific agent is not curative, as it’s not that if you take it, you will live forever.  

But it does improve survival, and it’s relatively well-tolerated. And there are other clinical trials of maintenance. Agents are being developed, and I think it’s a very important area in AML. And I think in the next several years, it will actually become common practice to do maintenance regimens.  

Laura Beth:

That’s good news. So, once an AML patient is in remission how are they monitored? 

Dr. Ravandi:

So, I mean, I usually tell my patients that once you’re in remission, you’re in remission until something goes wrong with your blood counts. So, in my opinion, it’s not important to do – definitely not important to do weekly blood counts, for example.  

Depending on patient’s anxiety levels and comfort, we do check their labs maybe once a month, once every two or three months, depending on how far they are from their remission. And in my opinion, routine bone marrows are not necessary during remission, unless the patient is a part of a clinical trial that they have accepted to participated in, because we do get a lot of information by doing those bone marrows. So, some studies have follow-up bone marrows, but that’s really as a part of a clinical trial and to help further the knowledge in therapy.  

What Do You Need to Know About Follicular Lymphoma?

What Do You Need to Know About Follicular Lymphoma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should you and your loved ones know after a follicular lymphoma diagnosis? This animated video provides an overview of follicular lymphoma, current treatment options, and important steps for engaging in your care.

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Transcript:

What do you need to know if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with follicular lymphoma? 

Follicular lymphoma is a type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is typically slow-growing and can begin in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, or other organs. The disease does not always cause symptoms. But if symptoms are present, they can include swollen lymph nodes, fever, unintentional weight loss, and night sweats.  

Follicular lymphoma is classified as “low grade” if the disease is slow-growing, or “high grade,” if the disease is more aggressive and growing more rapidly. 

Follicular lymphoma is staged to understand where the lymphoma is in the body and to help determine which treatment options are best. There are four stages – 

  • Stage I, in which the lymphoma is localized in one single lymph node area or one non-lymph node site. When there is a non-lymph node site involved, an “E” is added to the stage, meaning “extra nodal.” 
  • In stage II, the lymphoma is in two or more areas on one side of the diaphragm. Again, “E” designation means that there is a non-lymph node site involved. 
  • Stage III means the lymphoma is in two or more lymph node areas above and below the diaphragm. 
  • And finally, stage IV is when the lymphoma is widespread, with involvement above and below the diaphragm, including at least one non-lymph node site. 

Unlike in many other types of tumors, stage IV follicular lymphoma is often very treatable, because lymphomas tend to be sensitive to many different therapies. 

Treatment recommendations are based on a variety of factors, including: 

  • Disease stage 
  • Tumor size and tumor grade 
  • Disease symptoms 
  • And a patient’s age and overall health 

For some patients, treatment doesn’t begin right away, and an approach called “watchful waiting,” “observation,” or “active surveillance” is used to monitor the progression of the disease. This usually involves regular oncology clinic visits and lab checks – and sometimes repeat imaging scans. 

When it is time to treat, options may include: 

  • Radiation therapy 
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Targeted therapy 
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Or cellular therapy, such as CAR T-cell therapy or a bone marrow transplant. 

Your physician may also recommend clinical trial options. 

Now that you understand more about follicular lymphoma, how can you take an active role in your care?  

  • First, continue to educate yourself about your condition. Ask your healthcare team to recommend credible resources of information.  
  • Next, understand the goals of treatment and speak up about your personal preferences.
  • Consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist following a diagnosis to confirm your treatment approach.
  • And, write down your questions before and during your appointments. Visit powerfulpatients.org/FL to access office visit planners to help you organize your thoughts. Bring loved ones to your appointments to help you recall information and to keep track of important details.
  • Ask your doctor whether a clinical trial might be right for you.
  • Finally, remember that you have a voice in your care. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and to share your concerns. You are your own best advocate. 

To learn more about follicular lymphoma and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/Follicular. 

Expert Advice for Navigating Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions

Expert Advice for Navigating Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma experts Dr. Irene Ghobrial, Dr. Omar Nadeem, and Dr. Betsy O’Donnell, review essential testing that may impact the prognosis, care, and treatment options for patients with myeloma. The experts also discuss additional factors that are taken into consideration when choosing a therapy and share updates on new and developing myeloma research.

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. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

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: Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to hear perspectives from three myeloma experts on how to access personalized care for your myeloma. 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 today’s guests. I’ll start with Dr. Irene Ghobrial. Dr. Ghobrial, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Absolutely, and thank you for having us. My name is Irene Ghobrial. I am a professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you. Also with us today is Dr. Omar Nadeem. Thank you for being with us. Would you introduce yourself? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Hi, everyone. Thank you for having me. My name is Omar Nadeem. I’m an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and I work with the faculty at Dana-Farber myeloma program. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay, lovely, thank you. And last but not least is Dr. Betsy O’Donnell. Thank you for joining us today. Would you introduce yourself to the audience? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Sure, and thank you for having us this morning. My name is Betsy O’Donnell. I’m an assistant professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in plasma cell disorders. 

Katherine Banwell:

All right. Thank you to all of you for taking the time out of your schedule to join us today. Before we delve into our discussion, let’s start with understanding the types of myeloma. Dr. Ghobrial, what is MGUS? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So MGUS, or monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, is a precursor or the stage before myeloma happens, and it’s actually a very common disease or entity in many, many of us as we get older. In fact, maybe 5 percent of the population over the age of 50 would have this early MGUS. 

It doesn’t mean that it’s cancer. It’s a precursor to cancer, and we can talk more about it as we go on. 

Katherine Banwell:

All right. Is it the same as smoldering myeloma, or is that something different? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

It’s not. It’s an earlier stage than smoldering myeloma, and it’s hard to actually make the right definitions. But currently what we say is if you have more than 10 percent cancer cells or plasma cells in your bone marrow, then it’s smoldering myeloma. And by the name, smoldering, it’s almost myeloma. It’s ready to go on fire, but it’s not there yet.  

MGUS is before that, and the difference is that the chance of progression from MGUS to myeloma is only 1 percent per year, so many, many people will never progress to myeloma. While smoldering myeloma, just because there are more cancer cells in the bone marrow, has a higher chance of progressing, which is 10 percent per year. And in some people, a very high chance of progression of 50 percent in two years. 

And we want to make sure that we catch those cases early and not wait for myeloma to happen. 

Katherine Banwell:

How would you define myeloma? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, myeloma is currently defined as the same thing. The number of plasma cells in the bone marrow could be above 10 percent or more, or you have a protein in the blood. But the problem is that you’ve already had problems. You’ve had symptoms of end organ damage, so we have either high calcium, bone lesions, or bone fractures, anemia, kidney failure.  

And then now or more recently, we added a few more things to tell us these people are going to really develop myeloma soon. So, it used to be part of smoldering myeloma, now it’s part of the definition of myeloma, so that we can treat patients earlier, which is if your light chain level is very high, above 100 for a ratio, or if you have multiple lesions by something called an MRI or a PET CT scan instead of the traditional X-rays, or if your bone marrow has a lot of the plasma cells, more than 60 percent. 

And these were new definitions to make sure we don’t wait too much until people have an organ damage or symptoms and then we treat them. And you’ll hear from us that we think we should be treating people even earlier than that.  

Katherine Banwell:

Well, thank you for that. That’s very helpful. Dr. O’Donnell, let’s move on to testing. What tests are necessary to help understand a patient’s specific disease? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Absolutely. So, testing really does depend a little bit on the stage at which your disease is found. In general, we use a very specific blood test that lets us know that there is clonal protein present. Remember, plasma cells are a type of white blood cell, and they make something called antibodies. We use a test called a serum protein electrophoresis, which is a blood test – an SPEP, we call it – that can tell us the difference between normal, healthy antibody and clone that are made from the plasma cells that we see in MGUS, smoldering, and multiple myeloma. 

So, that’s a very important test, and sometimes your primary care doctor may notice that your total protein is elevated and send that test. 

Or there may be other things that tip them off. Perhaps the kidneys are not where they used to be. And so that test is sent, and that’s the first tip-off that someone might have a plasma cell disorder.  

Once we identify that there’s a plasma cell disorder, then that can set in place a workup, depending on the amount of clonal, monoclonal, M-protein that we see. So, sometimes that involves bone imaging. Historically that was a skeletal survey where we took lots of X-rays of your body. Now we have other tests we use. PET scans, CT scans, whole body MRIs. Sometimes it depends where you’re getting your treatment, and also it depends a little bit on your doctor’s degree of suspicion. 

Bone marrow biopsies are a procedure that we sometimes do. We use a thin, hollow needle to take out just a little piece of bone, about the size of an inchworm, and take some fluid with it. There’s actually fluid inside the bone marrow.  

And that can tell us, just as Dr. Ghobrial was defining the spectrum of plasma cell disorders, based on the percent of plasma cells, that can tell us where somebody belongs, which group they might belong in. So, we can use all of these tests to help give us a good sense of how much disease someone has and where in the spectrum or continuum a person is – MGUS, smoldering, or multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell: Okay, great. Thank you. I’m assuming these tests can help with understanding the stage of a patient’s myeloma. So, Dr. Nadeem, how is myeloma staged? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem: Yes. So, myeloma is staged very differently than traditional cancers. Because this is a blood disease, we don’t really think about it like we may in other solid tumor cancers, where if it’s spread to multiple locations it’s four, etcetera. That doesn’t apply to multiple myeloma. It’s actually staged out of three stages, and uses your blood work for the most part, some blood tests, to help identify which stage you are. Historically, that has correlated with how you may do. 

However, now we are learning that it’s far more to this story than just the bloodwork. So, we’re now using our bone marrow test results, particularly a test called a FISH test, which looks at the mutations that are present in examinable plasma cells, and if you have presence of some of these high-risk markers, that can actually either upstage you or downstage you if you don’t.   

So, we’re now I think becoming a little bit smarter how we think about this disease. It’s not just based on some blood test. We’re actually looking at the biology of some of these cells and the amount in the bone marrow. A lot of times patients ask, well, if I have 50 percent, 60 percent, or 80 percent involvement of the bone marrow, that actually does not have anything to do with staging, right? So, I think it’s important to know that it’s actually a very unique staging system in multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. O’Donnell, the landscape of myeloma has changed significantly in recent years. How have advances in testing changed care from myeloma patients? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I mean, the landscape has changed incredibly just in terms of the treatments we have, and I think that Dr. Nadeem was talking about something really important.  

In that when we look at FISH, which allows us to know the biology a little bit more, sometimes it helps us to decide kind of the risk that a patient is. We aren’t really at the point now where we do truly tailored therapies, like you see in some cancers, where we can detect specific mutations and pick drugs that align with that, but there are some that we do use. An example would be a drug called venetoclax (Venclexta), which works very well in patients who have a specific translocation, 11;14.  

So, there is some degree in which we use that FISH and those cytogenetics to help define our treatments, but also really we’re just fortunate that we have new and evolving therapies. We’ve changed how we treat myeloma in the up-front setting, and then at the back end we have an exploding field of immunotherapies, CAR-T cells, bispecific antibody that we’re now using that really have tremendously benefited our patients.  

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, should all patients undergo in-depth testing, like cytogenetics?  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Yes, so if you’re doing a bone marrow biopsy, absolutely. The question in terms of who needs bone marrow biopsies, if someone has a low risk MGUS, those patients don’t necessarily require a bone marrow biopsy. It’s an invasive procedure, it’s an uncomfortable procedure. But if we’re doing a workup for multiple myeloma or smoldering myeloma that includes a bone marrow biopsy, then absolutely. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. Nadeem, what are you looking for with cytogenetics, and how might test results affect prognosis and treatment? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, so as mentioned earlier, there are some mutations that are considered high risk, I will say with the caveat that we don’t fully understand every single mutation yet or have identified every single mutation yet that may be high risk or low risk.   

But there are roughly five that we have identified that if a patient has one or two or several of those abnormalities, then their disease may behave a little bit more aggressively or may not respond as well to treatment. 

However, I think myeloma is just very complicated, so we look at a lot of these results in the beginning, both whether they may be good or bad. But I think, ultimately, we have to see how patients do, and that by far is the most important prognostic factor, in my opinion. So, if we look at some of these tools, including staging, some of the bone marrow results and cytogenetics, and try to give some prediction in terms of what we may see from this person’s disease, but ultimately the treatments that are so effective now really dictate the course for the majority of the patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there specific tests that patients should ask for that could impact their care decisions? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, I think it depends on where they are in their disease state. So, if we’re looking at whether a patient has a precursor or plasma cell disorder or multiple myeloma, then they need all the testing to help us figure that out. 

So, that includes a bone marrow biopsy, the FISH testing as we just talked about. Advanced imaging like a PET scan or an MRI is now critical to identify patients that may have multiple myeloma versus those that have a precursor condition. So, we used to count on X-rays, as Dr. O’Donnell mentioned, but now really we do prefer one of those advanced imaging techniques for patients to undergo so that we can know. 

So, I think if they have basically those tests completed, that gives us most of the information that we need. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Thank you for that. Let’s go back to asymptomatic myeloma for a moment. Dr. Ghobrial, how are people with MGUS monitored? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so how do we even diagnose them, right? It’s a big question because it’s incidentally found. Someone will go to their primary care doctor and have a little bit of a high protein or slight anemia, and it may not be related, and then their doctor will check for serum protein electrophoresis, and that’s pure luck. We want to take away luck from this equation. We want to take away chance from this equation. 

And we want to start screening people who are at risk, and we are doing that with the PROMISE study.  

It’s online available to everyone nationwide, international now, where you can sign up on promisestudy.org and try to ask the question that we do for you research level, the serum protein electrophoresis, and a new test called mass spectrometry that is much more sensitive than SPEP to find it. 

Now, once we find MGUS, we want to know what is my own personal risk of progressing to myeloma? Because I could be 30 years old with MGUS, and likely I will progress to myeloma in the next 10 years, 20 years, and by the time I’m age 60, I would have been diagnosed with myeloma. Just a true case in many, many people. If people are diagnosed today with myeloma, they are going to their doctor because they had back pain or anemia, and they are diagnosed with myeloma. In almost all of the cases, they would have had MGUS and smoldering, but they didn’t know about it three years ago, four years ago because they never got tested  
for it. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right.  

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, we want to change that completely and become proactive rather than being reactive and waiting for symptoms to happen. Once you have MGUS or smoldering, because we don’t know, we start looking for all of the things to help us identify your risk of progression. So, we look at the height of your M-spike. Is it small or big? And then we in many cases say okay, maybe you need a bone marrow biopsy if your M-spike is a little bit on the higher side because we don’t want to miss smoldering myeloma, which will change the prognosis. 

And then we start looking at do you have anemia? Do you have kidney failure? Do you have any of the other things that may predict that you may be actually doing into myeloma? 

We also look at it more as a movie rather than as a snapshot, rather than a picture. If your M-spike is changing or your light chain is changing every three months, every six months, that’s an indicator that the cancer cells are doing something. They’re working in there and growing, and that’s why they’re increasing the M-spike and the light chain. 

And that evolving number is actually a very big predictor of telling us that there is a risk of progressing. Those are all clinical markers that we can do. When we look at the FISH, which we talked about, we can tell the certain markers are chromosomal changes that tell you that those cancer cells want to grow a little bit faster. So, 1q abnormality, 4;14, 14;16, 17p, all of those have been shown that when you have them, the cancer cells are not just sitting around and doing nothing. They’re actually starting to grow, and we want to catch them and understand what is the biology of the disease rather than just how many cancer cells you have. 

We do a lot of research level, and potentially now we’re going to give them back to the patients as clinical level, where we can give you more information about that prediction of your risk of progression. One of my colleagues calls it predicting the hurricane. We know that the hurricane will happen, and it’s a question of how precise could you be? We’re the Weather Channel men here.  

And we could be very precise and tell you it’s going to hit Miami at 2:00 in the afternoon tomorrow, and you could be prepared for it and get out of there. Or, you could be completely unprepared because we were not very accurate in our prediction and tell you it may hit the whole East Coast in the next two weeks. That’s not accuracy. So, we want to be more accurate in our prediction of myeloma because one person will never develop myeloma and can go have fun and enjoy life and not be worried and anxious about their risk, and another person we might say let’s watch you more carefully, or let’s think of interception preventing things. 

So, we do things called next-generation sequencing, taking all of those small numbers of cancer cells, even as little as single cells, and we can do whole genome sequencing and give back that information.  

We look at the immune cells and give back that information. We can do mass spectrometry. And with Betsy and Omar, we’re doing more and more tests so that when we have this prediction model, circulating tumor cells and so on, we can be more accurate in giving you that prediction. 

And help you make the next decision of are we watching carefully, are we preventing and intervening with behavior modification with other things? Are we intervening with therapy to intercept the disease? 

Katherine Banwell:

When are more in-depth tests necessary?  

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

It depends, of course, on everything. I would probably say for every patient, it is a unique discussion. Some patients will tell me, “Let’s watch again in three to six months, and then I will do more testing,” and some patients want to know everything immediately. And we have those discussions with every patient, and we tailor our therapy as well as our diagnostics workup with every patient, depending on how much they want to know, how much their risk is, and how much they want to be involved in that discussion of how much to prevent myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

All right. Dr. Nadeem, as we begin our treatment discussion, would you define personalized medicine as it relates to myeloma care? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. I think we’re getting better and better at really having a personalized treatment plan for each individual patient with multiple myeloma. I think Dr. O’Donnell defined before, we are identifying some of the markers where we have targeted therapy for, and we hope with time we’ll discover more and more targets that can truly lead to personalized medicine for individual patients. 

Right now, though, we have a lot of approved therapies for multiple myeloma, and that list is getting longer and longer basically every month, it seems, nowadays. So, when we have so many tools in our toolkit, we then have to figure out, well, which strategy works for which patient? And the fact that we have effective therapies, we’re able to tailor how much of one particular therapy a patient may benefit from. So, some of the decisions that come into play is which medication should I combine for this patient which will lead to obviously disease eradication? 

And then also, how much do I need to intensify that treatment? Do we need to think about doing a stem cell transplant or not? Yes or no? 

There’s lot of pros and cons, right? So, it’s a very personalized decision that we have, looking at the disease factors, but also a lot of personal factors because transplant interrupts life, and then we have to make sure that that fits with that particular patient’s lifestyle. 

And then we talk about maintenance therapy. You know, that’s the therapy that is designed to kind of keep the disease away usually for many, many years for the majority of patients.  

But what does that look like, right? Does that include just pills? Is it going to be shots plus pills? Is it going to be a combination, etcetera? So, we have all the discussions at each phase of myeloma, and we discuss with them about what the pros and cons are and how that may fit into their particular lifestyle. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, what factors do you consider when choosing a treatment approach? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I think you’ve heard from all of us that we really try to have an individualized approach. When we’re talking about multiple myeloma, one of the main factors that I think about is really kind of the overall wellness of the patient. Historically we had different categories of transplant eligible, transplant ineligible. 

And so that can influence some of the decisions. Really it comes down to what is the person’s performance does? How well are they doing in their day-to-day life? And that really can dictate the intensity of the therapy. We know that age is just a number, it really is, so there are factors beyond that. What other medical problems do people have? What are the specifics of how well their kidneys are working? 

And so the biggest thing that we can work with is the dose. In fact, we’ve had work that shows that using lower doses from the get-go in older patients allows almost identical outcomes, but really gives patients a tailored dose to where they are at that juncture in their life.  

And so remember, myeloma is much more like a marathon, and so you have to set out at a pace that can be sustained. We treat people continuously. There’s an induction phase where we use a multiple drug combination, but beyond that, as Dr. Nadeem just said, they go on to maintenance, and that maintenance is indefinite. And so you have to set out at a pace or at a dose that you can sustain. 

Different medications have different toxicity profiles, so if someone had, let’s say, cardiac or heart issues, we might steer away from some medications that may exacerbate those. So, every decision is individualized. It’s based on who the patient is, where they are in their life, what other medical problems they have, and what we think they will do best with over time, not just in a short timeframe. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, as we’ve been discussing, treatment choices vary for individual patients. Dr. Nadeem, what types of myeloma treatment classes are currently available?  

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. So, we started over three decades ago plus with just having basically steroid medications and some older chemotherapy drugs that weren’t very targeted at all, and that was basically all we had up until about a little over 20 years ago, where immunomodulatory drugs were first discovered to be effective in multiple myeloma, and that included thalidomide and now a commonly used agent called lenalidomide, or Revlimid.  

After that, we had a next class of medications approved called proteasome inhibitors that work differently than the immunomodulatory drugs, and then we combined all of these therapies about a decade plus ago and showed that that was better than anything else that we were doing before that. So, combining the steroids with the immunomodulatory drugs and proteasome inhibitors became the standard of care. 

And then we had the next class of drugs approved in 2015 called monoclonal antibodies, and that’s the first time we have monoclonal antibodies approved for myeloma, and it first started in patients that had relapse myeloma, and then they made it all the way up to front line therapy with a drug in particular called daratumumab.  

And now what we’re going is entering an era of combining all four of these therapies, just like we did 10 years ago with three drugs, and showing that combining four drugs is actually better than three. And the important thing there is that it’s not necessarily adding cumulative toxicity. These are targeted therapies; they all work differently but they all work really well together. So, now combining these agents has allowed us to really treat the disease effectively and allow for patients to tolerate the therapies.  

And then over the last couple of years, we’ve now entered kind of the next renaissance in myeloma where you have immunotherapies, and these are sort of true immunotherapies, in some cases taking the patient’s own T cells and then genetically modifying them to recognize myeloma cells and putting them back into patients. This is called CAR T-cell therapy, and that’s now approved for patients with multiple myeloma.  

And that again, just like the previous drug, sits in patients that have – you know, at a space where patients have had multiple relapses. But we’re now studying that earlier and earlier, and that along with another class of drugs called bispecific antibodies that also use your T cells via a different mechanism. A lot of exciting things going on, and we keep adding to the available agents for this disease.  

Katherine Banwell:

As you say, so many exciting advances. Where do clinical trials fit into a patient’s treatment plan? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. So, clinical trials as a term, a lot of times patients have a lot of questions about what that means. There’s a lot of misconceptions, I would say.  

Sometimes patients think they will get either a placebo and they won’t get the adequate treatment, or that they may not get the right treatment, right, because they’re taking a chance going on a clinical trial. It’s actually the opposite. So, all the trials are really designed to improve upon what we already know works in a particular disease, right? So, when we think about trials let’s say in relapsed myeloma, where the patient has already had some of the approved therapies, we’re looking at the most promising new therapies that have shown efficacy either in the lab or first in human studies and then moving them through the different phases and studying them in more and more patients. 

And that’s how all these drugs get started, right? So, they all get started at that point and then make their way to earlier lines of therapy. 

Then you’re trying to answer different questions as part of clinical trials. So, which one of these therapies can I combine, for example. Which ones can I omit, which ones – so, they’re all sort of getting the standard therapy and getting something either added on top of it or removed, depending on what the question that we’re asking. 

And then in the world that we currently live in with precursor plasma cell disorders, as Dr. Ghobrial mentioned, we have lots of patients that are at high risk of developing multiple myeloma in their lifetime, and that could be in a few years to a decade. And a lot of these therapies are so effective, and we’re now trying to really study some of these rationally in that patient population, so that’s a very different clinical trial, for example, than what I described earlier.  

So, it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve and where you are in the phase of your disease. 

Katherine Banwell:

This next question is open to all of you. Are there therapies in development that are showing promise for patients with myeloma? Dr. O’Donnell, let’s start with you. 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Yes. So, I think we are so fortunate in multiple myeloma to have so much interest in our disease and so many great drugs developed. So, as Dr. Nadeem was discussing, CAR-T cells are an immunotherapy, the ones that are approved now, we actually are fortunate to have two CAR-T cells approved, target something very specific called B-cell maturation antigen.  

We’re now seeing the next generation where we’re looking at other targets on the same cancer cell, that plasma cell, so those are evolving. 

Same thing is true in the bispecific antibody space. Again, those target BCMA now, but we have newer bispecifics who look at alternate targets, and really what this does is it gives us different ways of approaching the cancer cell, particularly as you relapse through disease. 

Katherine Banwell:

Anybody else? Dr. Ghobrial, Dr. Nadeem? Anything to add about therapies available? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

I would probably say we’re also getting into targeted therapies and more of personalized, so if you have an 11;14 translocation, venetoclax would be an amazing drug for that. And the more we can say my own personal myeloma, what’s the best treatment for me, that’s how we’re trying to do it. So, it may not be exactly precision medicine, but we’re getting closer and closer to precision medicine of my myeloma, my specific drugs. And even if people have a 17p deletion, then we would say let’s think of that immunotherapy.  

It is truly a renaissance for us, and we’re starting to get into trispecifics, into off-the-shelf CAR-T, into so many new things. Into two different antigens that are expressed for the CAR-Ts. I mean, we are really beginning the era of immunotherapy, and we’re excited to see how much we can go into that because it will completely change myeloma, and hopefully we will cure many patients. We think we have already amazing drugs. It’s a matter of when to use them and who is the right person for this right drug. 

Katherine Banwell:

Exactly, yes. Dr. Nadeem, many patients are on maintenance therapy following active treatment. So, how is a patient on maintenance therapy monitored? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, so, majority of the time just with bloodwork. We don’t necessarily need to do a lot of bone marrow biopsies and PET scans for a majority of patients that are on maintenance therapy unless we’re either worried about their blood markers or some symptoms. Generally speaking, any time – it depends on what maintenance therapy they’re on, of course. If they’re just on lenalidomide, which is the most commonly used maintenance therapy, a lot of times we check in with them every one to three months. 

Depending on how their disease status is and how they’ve been doing and whether there’s any side effects that we need to worry about. So, they still have to see their doctors, still have to get the bloodwork. Usually you can get away with having it done no more than once a month or so, unless they are on other medications along with Revlimid, where we then have to check in with them a little bit more frequently. 

And some of that changes, so patients can be on maintenance therapy for five plus years, and we get a very good sense of how they are doing and kind of how their disease is doing, and we can kind of be a moving target in terms of the frequency of the follow-ups. 

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. 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 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 relapse 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. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. Thank you for that, Dr. O’Donnell. Let’s take a few questions that we received from audience members prior to the program. Colin writes, “How is it determined as to which patients might be the best candidates for clinical trial CAR T-cell treatment?” Dr. Nadeem, we talked a few moments ago about CAR T-cell treatment. Would you like to answer this question? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Sure, I’d be happy to. So, CAR T-cell therapy is already approved. It’s FDA-approved for patients that have had four or more prior lines of myeloma therapy. So, when we think about a patient coming to us for that particular treatment that have relapsed myeloma, we’re always looking to see how much of the previous therapy they had. 

Whether they meet the indication, the labeled indication for that particular product. And then now, as we’ve discussed today, we’re studying this CAR T-cell therapy in various different phases of myeloma. Earlier lines of therapy, even thinking about studying it in high-risk smoldering myeloma, right? And then kind of looking about how we can best study this therapy in so many different phases.  

So, it all depends on where a patient is in their disease state, and then we kind of look to see whether a commercial approved CAR-T product makes sense for them, or we think about one of our several relapse CAR T-cell trials that are looking at BCMA target, which is what the approved one is, but also looking at newer targets like GPRC5D that we’ve brought up before. 

So, it encompasses a lot of different things, that question, but I think in terms of the candidacy of the patient itself, we do know that these CAR T-cell therapies have some toxicity, so we have to then weigh in terms of what medical problems they have whether they’ll be able to tolerate what the majority of patients with CAR T-cell therapy get, which is this syndrome called cytokine release syndrome, where patients will get a fever. 

And in some cases have changes in their blood pressure or oxygen levels. We have to make sure that the patient’s body can handle that. I will say we’ve gotten better and better at managing a lot of toxicities as it comes to CAR T-cell therapy. When this was first approved, it was all pretty new, but now what we’re learning is if patients are developing a fever, which the majority do, we’re intervening earlier and earlier to prevent them from getting sicker. 

So, these are things we’ve learned now, and the majority of patients get through CAR T-cell therapy toxicity period much better than they did when it was first approved. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay, thank you for that.   

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, 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. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Thank you for that. Dr. Ghobrial, this is a question we’ve received from Carlene. “Many prominent doctors claim the COVID vaccines suppress the immune system. How can boosters be justified in an already immune deficient myeloma patient? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so we think that protecting yourself and preventing COVID infections is so essential and so important. 

Especially in a patient with myeloma and especially when you’re receiving therapy: daratumumab, bispecifics, CAR-T. We want to make sure everyone is protected from COVID infections, and they are real. They are serious, and they cause death in our patients. So, every step, not only getting the vaccine but also sometimes we give tixagevimab co-packaged with cilgavimab (Evusheld) to protect our patients and protect further problems and reinfection. 

Katherine Banwell:

Remind us, what that is, the Evusheld? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Oh. It’s an antibody to help us prevent the COVID infection, so as a prevention method rather than as a treatment method.  

The other thing that we think of is the immune system is already altered in myeloma. It’s even altered or changed even as early as MGUS and smoldering myeloma. So, when we’re walking around and thinking, “Oh, I have only a benign design of MGUS,” that’s not true. The immune system has already started to change as early as MGUS, and in many of us as we get older. 

So, we have to be more protective and we have to be more careful with our patients. But as we get to even myeloma, before we even treat it, before we use the drugs that kill plasma cells, good and bad plasma cells, which secrete antibodies that fight infections, we are already at risk for COVID infections. 

And then our drugs, unfortunately, don’t only kill the malignant or the bad plasma cells, they also have a small side effect of killing also your normal plasma cells, and these are the ones that make antibodies to fight infections. So, you are at risk and you have to be very protective and careful with yourself. 

Katherine Banwell:

Is there any research on predicting hereditary risk of myeloma? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so part of the PROMISE study is trying to understand what is the risk of developing myeloma. So, we’re recruiting people who are either African American because they have a three times higher chance of developing myeloma compared to the White population, as well as people who have a first degree family member with a plasma cell disorder.  

Or even any blood cancer because now we see that CLL and lymphoma and myeloma can actually come together. And we’re now doing something called whole genome sequencing of all of the DNA that you inherit from Mom or Dad called the germ line. Basically, we try to see did you inherit the gene from Mom or Dad that increases your risk to myeloma? 

Now, it’s not as high as something like BRCA1 mutation or 2 mutation, where if you have that, you’re high, high chance of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer and so on. We probably have several factors that need to be put together. You inherit something and then the environment adds something, and then as we get older, we get the hit. 

Or you inherit something that changes your immune system, and that allows the plasma cells to start proliferating faster because they are reacting as an immune cell, and that allows the hit of myeloma to happen. And we’re working on that, and we would really encourage everyone who has a relative with myeloma, sign up on PROMISE study. 

Because that’s how we can get the answer. That’s how we can say it’s not because you are an African American or you’re White. It’s not because you have a first-degree family member or not. It’s because of this gene. So, taking away race, taking away all of those factors, taking away age and trying to go back to the biology. Is it a certain gene, is it the certain immune cell that makes us go to that risk? 

And then Dr. O’Donnell is really taking it to the next level. Now what is in the macro environment? So, we talked about what we inherit, but it’s like nurture and nature, right? So, nature is the genetics and then nurture, what do we eat? What do we change? Obesity, health, all of those things change our inflammation level and change our ability to basically prevent those myeloma cells from starting or from continuing to progress. And she can potentially talk about her work on microbiome, on the tiny bacteria that are in our body from what we eat. So, maybe, Betsy? 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay.  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Absolutely. Yes, so one of the things that particularly interests me is the effect of lifestyle on our risk of getting cancer. 

And specifically within plasma cell disorders, and I think there have been other cancers, breast cancer and colon cancer, where they’re a couple steps ahead of us just in understanding the influence of things like obesity and the gut microbiome. So, the specific bacteria that are within your intestinal tract. It makes a lot of sense in colon cancer, but we think that that’s not limited to diseases like that. We actually think that these microbiomes, which are influenced by the foods that you eat, may have a relationship with your immune system. And remember, myeloma is a cancer of the immune system. 

So, we’re all working together on our team here on a very scientific level to understand lifestyle influences and how they may cause or potentiate multiple myeloma. And so we’re excited to kind of bring this piece together. When you think about the spectrum of plasma cell disorders, not everybody goes on to myeloma, but a lot of people sit in these early precursor diseases, MGUS and early smoldering. 

And so are there things that people can do for themselves that might influence their gut microbiome, or if it’s the amount of body fat that we have that’s very involved in cell signaling? Can we modify those things, exercise more potentially, that will decrease our body inflammation levels or alter those pathways that have been set in process that, by altering them, may decrease the risk of going on to more advanced plasma cell disorders? 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s such great information. Thank you for answering that, and thank you all for your thoughtful responses to the questions.  

As we close out the program, I’d like to get a comment from each of you. As I mentioned at the start of the webinar, care for myeloma patients is becoming more personalized, and we’ve been talking about that throughout the program. What are you hopeful about the future of care for myeloma patients? Dr. Ghobrial, do you want to start? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

I’m hopeful that we truly cure myeloma, and no one should ever develop end organ damage. 

We should identify it early and treat it early, and no one should ever come in being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. Nadeem? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, I think I definitely agree with what Irene said, and really having a more thoughtful approach to each individual myeloma patient. As I mentioned earlier, we have so many available therapies. I want to be able to know exactly which patients need which path in terms of treatment, and which ones we can maybe de-escalate therapy, right? So, thinking about which patients do well and maybe can get away with not being on continuous therapy, and those that absolutely need it. Identifying them better to give them the best therapy. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, do you have anything to add? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

I think we all share a common goal, which is cure, and for those who we can’t cure yet, I think really working on making the experience as good as it possibly can be and focusing on the factors that we can control and optimizing those, both for patients and their caregivers who are in this journey together with the patient. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, I’d like to extend my thanks to all of you for joining us today. 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Thank you. 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Thank you for having us. 

Katherine Banwell:

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 so much for joining us.  

 

Managing Your Oral AML Treatment | Tips for Staying on Schedule

Managing Your Oral AML Treatment | Tips for Staying on Schedule from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With oral AML therapies becoming more available, patients now play a role in administering their own treatment. Dr. Eytan Stein shares tips for patients managing their at-home treatment regimens.

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

See More from Thrive AML

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What Are Current and Emerging AML Treatment Approaches?

The Benefits of Being Pro-Active in Your AML Care

Tips for Thriving With AML | Setting Treatment Goals


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

With more oral therapies becoming available, patients now have a role in self-administering their treatment. So, what happens if a patient forgets to take a medication? Does that impact its effectiveness? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

The easy answer to that question is probably not. You know, if you forget to take a medication for three weeks, that’s not a good thing, but if there’s a – you know, this happens all the time, right?  

You’re busy, and you just forget. If you forget to take a medication one night or one day, it almost certainly is not going to make a huge difference. Having said that, you shouldn’t see that as license to not be careful. So, it is important to try. So, set an alarm; put out a pill container do the kinds of things that can help you.  

The other thing, there is a certain what I would call pill fatigue that sets in. Often, patients with AML are taking multiple medications at multiple times a day, and it can be hard. And at my center, we have pharmacists who do a lot of different things, but one of the things they can help with is sort of streamlining patients’ pill burden to make it easier for them to remember and to take the medications when they’re supposed to take them. 

Katherine Banwell:

When a patient does forget to take a dose or even a couple of days’ doses, should they call their healthcare team and let them know? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yes, always call. Always call.  

Disease Monitoring: Is My AML Treatment Working?

Disease Monitoring: Is My AML Treatment Working? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Eytan Stein explains how AML treatment effectiveness is monitored and why it’s essential for patients to report any symptoms or side effects to their healthcare team.

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

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Considerations When Choosing an AML Treatment

What Are the Phases of AML Therapy

What Are Current and Emerging AML Treatment Approaches?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Once treatment has begun, Dr. Stein, how do you know if it’s working?  

Dr. Eytan Stein:

So, that’s a good question. So, the good thing about acute myeloid leukemia when it comes to understanding what’s going on, you know, it’s a disease of the bone marrow cells. And we do bone marrow biopsies to see how things are doing. But no one likes a bone marrow biopsy. It can be a somewhat uncomfortable procedure.  

Katherine Banwell:

How often would a patient need to have a biopsy? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so they have bone marrow biopsies at diagnosis, and then they often will have bone marrow biopsies two weeks to a month later.  

And then, if they’re in remission, basically any time you think if you want to check to see if they’re in remission or if you suspect the patient is relapsing. Then, you would do a bone marrow biopsy. But what I was getting at is that but you have blood. And the blood is kind of like the bellwether of what’s going on in the bone marrow.  

So, the analogy I use for my patients is, you know, when you’re driving your car and you have – you know, you don’t open the hood every day to make sure the car is running okay. You know, you’re driving your car, and if your car starts making a funny clinking sound, that’s when you open the hood.  

So, the blood is like the clinking sound. If you see something going wrong in the blood, that’s when you know you’ve got to open the hood and look under the hood. If the car is running just fine and you don’t see anything wrong in the blood, using the analogy, maybe you don’t need to do a bone marrow biopsy. 

Katherine Banwell:

What if a treatment isn’t working? What if it stops working or if the patient relapses? What do you do then? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so when a patient relapses, which unfortunately happens more than we want it to, it’s important number one to do another bone marrow biopsy and at that point, do that mutational testing again because the mutations that are present at the time of diagnosis are not necessarily going to be present at the time of relapse, and sometimes, a new mutation might occur at the time of relapse.  

And again, what that mutational profile shows can help determine what the next best treatment for the patient is. There might be standard-of-care therapies. More chemotherapy might be recommended.  

When a patient relapses, I usually – excuse me – try to get them on a clinical trial because that’s the point where I think clinical trial drugs really have potentially major benefit for the patients, to help get them back into remission. 

How Do Gene Mutations Affect AML Treatment Choices?

How Do Gene Mutations Affect AML Treatment Choices? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Eytan Stein shares why AML patients should undergo molecular testing when choosing a treatment approach, explaining how targeted therapy works to treat AML patients who have specific genetic mutations.

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Why is identification of genetic markers essential before choosing treatment?  

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Because when you know the genetic markers, you can target the genetic abnormalities, sometimes with specific targeted therapies, with therapies that fit like a key in a specific lock.  

And those targeted therapies have been shown, in some cases, to improve the survival of the patients, without much cost, without much toxicity. So, I’ll give you an example of this.  

There is a very common genetic abnormality in patients with acute myeloid leukemia called the FLT3 or FLT3 mutation. When you have that mutation, there is a targeted therapy that targets the FLT3 mutation called midostaurin (Rydapt), and it’s been shown in a very large clinical trial that the addition of the targeted FLT3 inhibitor midostaurin in combination with chemotherapy leads to better overall survival than chemotherapy alone.  

So, you need to know that information because you want to give your patient the best chance at beating the disease. And that’s why it’s also important to try to get this information back quickly. You know, no one wants to be sitting around waiting for four weeks to find out if they’ve got a specific mutation. And we’ve gotten better. I think medical centers generally have gotten better at getting this mutational information back to their doctors relatively quickly. 

Katherine Banwell:

Does every patient get this standard testing? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

It is – does everyone get it? I don’t know. But “Should everyone get it?” is, I think, the important question. Yes, everyone should get this testing.  

It is incorporated into the NCCN and National Comprehensive Cancer Network and European Leukemia Net guidelines. It is important not only because you can think about targeted therapies, but it is also important for prognostic reasons, meaning that certain mutations lead to a higher risk of relapse, and those mutations in a patient might lead me to recommend a stem cell transplant, which is sort of the most intensive thing we can do to help prevent a relapse, while other mutations, which might be “favorable”, in quotes, they might lead me not to recommend a stem cell transplant.  

So, I think this mutational testing is the standard of care and should be done in every patient with newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia.  

Considerations When Choosing an AML Treatment

Considerations When Choosing an AML Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Eytan Stein reviews factors that should be considered when choosing an AML treatment approach, including potential side effects, age, and patient preference. 

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

All patients are different, of course, and what might work for one person might not be appropriate for another. How do you choose which treatment is right for a patient? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

So, it’s an individualized decision. So, what you’re talking to the patient, as we talked about at the very beginning, is you really need to understand the patient’s goals for treatment. You need to understand the anticipated benefit of the treatment that you’re offering and need to understand the side effects of the treatment. 

So, and that sort of becomes the puzzle that you work with the patient at putting together. That is how well do I expect this treatment to work? What are the potential side effects of the treatment, and what are the patient’s goals? And when you sort of lay all those different pieces out, you then usually come up with something that becomes pretty clear what the best thing to do is.  

So, I’ll give you just a very concrete example of this. Sometimes, we have treatments where the medical data would suggest that they might work as well as one another, right? There’s no clear difference between each of the two treatments. But maybe one of the two treatments requires you to be in the hospital, and one of the treatments allows you to be at home.  

So, that’s an important discussion to have with the patient because some patients, believe it or not, want to be in the hospital, because they’re worried about being at home and having to manage this all themselves. Some patients don’t want to be in the hospital. Some patients want to be at home, because they’re scared of the hospital, or they’re worried the food’s going to be terrible.  

And then, that would be important in helping the patient make the decision for their treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right. You mentioned earlier, Dr. Stein, the difference in ages and how you would treat different people depending on their age. So, when you’re choosing a treatment, you obviously look at age. What else? Things like comorbidities? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so age, so I’m not ageist. So, it’s more that as people get older – and this is just a fact of life – as everyone gets older, their organs don’t work quite as well anymore, right? Things start breaking down as you get older. So, certain treatments aren’t appropriate for older people because the treatments a younger person, because their organs are working at 100 percent, may be able to handle it, while an older person, where their organs might only be working at 60, 70 percent, the treatment might not be as good of a choice for them. 

So, that’s what I mean. So, as people age, their comorbidities increase. So, we always look at comorbidities, and if you had an 80-year-old that was running marathons, I might think about their treatment differently than an 80-year-old who is not running marathons. But most 80- and 85-year-olds aren’t running marathons, so that’s why we sometimes think about their treatment differently. 

What Are Current and Emerging AML Treatment Approaches?

What Are Current and Emerging AML Treatment Approaches? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML Expert Dr. Eytan Stein provides an overview of current and emerging treatment approaches for people living with AML.

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What are the treatment types available to AML patients? You mentioned chemotherapy. What else is there? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so if I was having this discussion with you, even when I first started my career back in 2013, all I would’ve been talking to you about was induction chemotherapy and maybe a lower-dose chemotherapy called hypomethylating agents.  

I think one thing that really needs to be recognized is that the advances we’ve made for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia, over the past 10 years, have been just remarkable. We’ve had a number up to nine drug approvals over the past 10 years, and those therapies fall into the following categories.  

We now have therapies outside the strong induction consolidation we talked about. We have therapies such as targeted therapies that target specific gene mutations that are present in patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Those are often oral therapies that patients can take at home. And we have very effective therapies for older patients who usually can’t handle the side effects of induction chemotherapy. That’s the combination of a type of drug called a hypomethylating agent with a very, very powerful targeted drug called a BCL-2 inhibitor.  

One of those drugs, that drug is called venetoclax. That’s the one that’s FDA-approved. And the combination of those hypomethylating agents and venetoclax, has really changed the paradigm for how we treat older patients with acute myeloid leukemia, led to many patients who have been able to live much longer than they would have before this therapy came about.  

You know, there are other therapies that are in development, but I don’t know if we’ll end up talking about that a little bit later. But there are therapies such as immunotherapy, which has gotten a lot of press for other kinds of cancers, like one cancer called the rectal cancer, that aren’t yet approved for acute myeloid leukemia but are being developed for acute myeloid leukemia.   

So, the future of acute – the current treatments for acute myeloid leukemia are dramatically better than they were 10 years ago, and I would anticipate that we’re going to continue to see these kind of advances over the next 10 years.  

Katherine Banwell:

What about stem cell transplant? Who might be right for that? Who might be eligible? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so let’s go back to the discussion a little bit about consolidation chemotherapy. So, when you have a patient that gets induction chemotherapy or gets any therapy – it doesn’t have to be chemotherapy – to put their disease into remission, for a large group of patients, we think that the best way to cure their disease is to do something called a stem cell transplant.  

So, what’s a stem cell transplant? What it is not is like a heart transplant or a liver transplant, which patients often don’t realize.  

So, it’s not a procedure where an organ is being transplanted through a surgical procedure. What it is is it’s acknowledging that the cause of acute myeloid leukemia is that the most primitive cells in the bone marrow, called the stem cells, are the cause of the disease. And the chemotherapies that we give patients to get them into remission don’t always eradicate those bad stem cells.  

So, what we’re able to do once a patient is in remission is we try to get them new stem cells. How do you get a patient new stem cells? Well, you go to a donor, and there’s a donor bank of people who have volunteered to donate stem cells to patients with acute myeloid leukemia. You go to the donor bank, and then you give chemotherapy to the patient to sort of wipe out their bad stem cells, and then you give them new stem cells that will hopefully permanently eradicate the disease. 

What ends up happening is that a large group of patients with acute myeloid leukemia end up being referred for a stem cell transplant. The reason is twofold. You know, it used to be – I keep talking about the past. I’m getting older, and so now I can talk about the past.  

Yeah. So, it used to be that stem cell transplants were really reserved to people less than 65 years old.  

But our advances in our ability to do stem cell transplants has allowed for us to now successfully do stem cell transplants on patients, even into their upper 70s and sometimes even at the age of 80.  

Katherine Banwell:

Where do clinical trials fit in to all of this? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Ah. So, clinical trials are extraordinarily important for a variety of reasons. Clinical trials are important because the only way we make advances on a societal level in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia is by patients who are willing to participate in clinical trials. All of the – because these are trials that are testing new therapies with the goal of improving the survival and the quality of life of patients with acute myeloid leukemia. All these drugs I just talked about that have been approved over the past 10 years, they never would’ve been approved if patients hadn’t agreed to participate in clinical trials. So, that’s something that’s number one that’s very important.  

But on a – forget the societal level for a second. On a patient-specific level, a clinical trial can potentially benefit a patient because it offers a patient access to a new, exciting therapy that may really help in improving their outcome of having acute myeloid leukemia.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. You mentioned emerging therapies. What are some of those? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Oh, there’s so many. So, it’s hard to talk about all of them, but I think there are targeted therapies – I think if you sort of break them up into sort of broad buckets, there are new targeted therapies that are being developed for subsets of patients with acute myeloid leukemia. One of the ones I’ve been working on pretty heavily over the past few years is a kind of drug called a menin inhibitor. This is an oral medication that is given to patients of acute myeloid leukemia who have certain genetic abnormalities, specifically either a mutation in a gene called NPM1, or a what is called a rearrangement in a gene called MLL.  

So, that’s a group of – that menin inhibition seems to be extraordinarily effective in treating patients, at least from the early data, for those specific subtypes of acute leukemia.  

The other therapies that are really getting a lot of play now are the immunotherapies, which I mentioned a second ago. There are immunotherapies that work to – called bispecific immunotherapies where what happens is it works to harness the immune system to kill the cancer cells. You may have heard a lot about CAR T-cell therapy, which is another way of harnessing the immune system and engineering immune cells to target acute myeloid leukemia cells. And the other thing I want to point out is that even if you don’t have a new therapy against a new target, you can imagine now that we’ve got all these 10 new approved drugs.  

But what we’re trying to figure out – one of the things we’re trying to figure out over the past few years has been what’s the best way to give these new drugs? What kind of combinations can you put them in that might make things even better? Maybe you should give two of those drugs first and then give another drug afterwards. And a lot of the research that’s being done now is being done to understand the best sequencing and combinations of drugs with the drugs that we already have approved. 

What Are the Phases of AML Therapy?

What Are the Phases of AML Therapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Eytan Stein discusses the phases of AML treatment, defining induction therapy, consolidation therapy, and maintenance therapy.

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is induction therapy?   

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so induction chemotherapy refers really to a type of chemotherapy that tends to be quite intensive, so strong chemotherapy that patients receive in the hospital setting. That induction chemotherapy typically requires a hospitalization of three to four weeks, sometimes a little bit longer, as the patient gets their treatment during the first week or so and then they’re recovering from the effects of that treatment during the next three weeks in the hospital.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. What is consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Ah. So, a patient first gets induction chemotherapy. If they achieve a complete remission, so their disease goes away, that’s great. We know their disease seems to be gone. But we also know that patients relapse. So, if patients relapse, it means their disease wasn’t really gone. It’s just that we couldn’t find it. It was hiding somewhere.  

So, consolidation chemotherapy is chemotherapy that is given after a patient is in complete remission in an effort to kill any residual leukemia cells that may be hiding in the body, that we can’t see in our bone marrow biopsies, in an effort to deepen the remission that we’ve achieved during induction.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Are there any other terms that patients should be familiar with? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

There are. You know, there are a lot of other terms that patients should be familiar with. I’ll just touch on one because it can get complicated. We now have for acute myeloid leukemia, a type of therapy that goes beyond induction and consolidation called maintenance therapy.  

Maintenance therapy is when a patient is done with induction, done with consolidation, and the question is, can you give them something that is easy to take, relatively non-toxic, that they can take for a prolonged period of time, to also help prevent relapse? Maintenance therapy has been really a backbone of the treatment of a different kind of leukemia called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which happens primarily in children for many years. Maintenance therapy is also now a backbone of therapy for a different kind of blood cancer called multiple myeloma. And very recently, only within the past year to two years, we’ve incorporated maintenance therapy for AML for certain groups of patients.  

What You Should Know About DLBCL Treatment Side Effects

What You Should Know About DLBCL Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Once a patient begins diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment, what side effects could they experience? Dr. Kami Maddocks, reviews potential side effects and how they may be managed.

Dr. Kami Maddocks is a hematologist who specializes in treating patients with B-cell malignancies at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Maddocks.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the side effects that patients can expect with these treatments?  

Dr. Maddocks:

So, when they get the treatment, on the day they get it, there can be an infusion reaction to the rituximab or antibody therapies. So, the first treatment, that treatment is given very slowly and titrated up. If patients have a reaction, we stop it, treat the reaction, and then they’re able to continue therapy but again, that first day, it can take several hours for that one antibody to get in. And then, later, therapies are given at a more rapid pace.   

So, about 70 percent of people who react, it can be really almost anything. Some people get flushing, some people will get a fever, some people –have shortness of breath or their heart rate will go up. 

Katherine:

Okay. All right. Any other side effects? 

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. So then chemotherapy is meant to kill cells during the cell cycle. So, cancer cells divide more rapidly, chemotherapy is targeting them, but it also effects good cells in the body, specifically those that divide at a more rapid pace. The biggest risk of chemotherapy is infection.  

So, it effects the good white blood cells that fight infections. It can affect your red cells that carry your iron, gives you your energy. Or your platelets which help you to clot or not bleed when you get caught. So, infection is the biggest risk of chemotherapy. So, usually, with this regimen, that infectious risk is highest within the second week of treatment, that treatment is given every three weeks.  

So, we tell patients they should buy a thermometer, check their temperature, they have to notify their doctor or go to the ER if they have a fever. Besides infection, there’s a small percentage of patients who might need a transfusion. GI toxicity. So, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, constipation, all of which we have good treatments for. So, we give medication before chemo to try to prevent people from getting sick and then give them medicine to go home with, if they have any nausea. We can alter those medications as time goes on, if they’re having any problems. So, we just need to know about it. Most patients will lose their hair with this regimen.  

It can affect people’s tastes, it can make their skin more sensitive to the sun, and then, less common but potential side effects are it can cause damage to the nerves. Or something we call neuropathy, which most often patients will start with getting numbness or tingling in their fingers and toes, and we can dose adjust if that’s causing some problems.  

And then, there’s a risk to the heart with one of the drugs. So, the heart should pump like this. The heart pump function can go down. So, we always check a patient’s heart pump function before they get their chemo, to make sure that they’re not at higher risk for that to happen.  

Katherine:

So, all of these approaches are used in initial treatment?  

Dr. Maddocks:

Mm-hmm. 

Katherine:

Okay. 

Is My DLBCL Treatment Working? What Happens If It Doesn’t Work?

Is My DLBCL Treatment Working? What Happens If It Doesn’t Work? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) expert Dr. Kami Maddocks describes how a treatment’s effectiveness is evaluated and reviews the options available for refractory patients.

Dr. Kami Maddocks is a hematologist who specializes in treating patients with B-cell malignancies at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Maddocks.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

So, how do you know if a treatment is working?  

Dr. Maddocks:

So, as far as evaluating treatment, you get a scan before you start treatments, so we know where all the lymphoma is at. And then, typically, you get some sort of scan in the middle of treatment, and then after, you complete your six cycles of treatment. Or for early stages, sometimes patients will get less than six cycles. So, we get scans to make sure it’s working. So, you can tell by those things, how much has gone, hopefully all of it has gone by the end. Occasionally, patients that had a lot of symptoms to start with, their symptoms will go away, and then they’ll start coming back.  

This is less common, because the majority of patients do respond to chemotherapy. It’s less common to get patients who are what is called refractory, meaning they don’t get any response to therapy. So, occasionally they’ll note symptoms but a lot of times, we’ll see something on that mid-therapy or end of therapy scan, if it’s not going to make it all go away.  

Katherine:

So, if a treatment doesn’t work, what happens then?  

Dr. Maddocks:

If treatment doesn’t work, it depends a little bit – and now it depends a little bit on the timing of that treatment not working. So, it used to be that patients who were eligible for treatment, no matter if it didn’t work right away or if it put them into what we call a remission, so there’s no evidence of disease and then it relapsed, they would have the option of further chemotherapy and then an autologous stem cell transplant. So, a bone marrow transplant where they donate their own cells.  

If they were in a good enough health or if they were not – to do that, you have to donate your own bone marrow cells and as we age, we make less bone marrow cells. So, once you reach a certain age, your body can’t produce enough cells to donate to a transplant. In those patients, we offer them less aggressive chemo options, which were not known to be curable but could put them into remission again, for a while. More recently, there has been some that chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy that I mentioned where you actually donate your own T cells. So that’s –. And your lymphoma is of your B cells.  

Your T cells are in another immune cell that should recognize that lymphoma is bad and attack it, and they’re not functioning properly. So, you donate your own T cells, and they’re sent off and reengineered to target a protein on the tumor. Then, you get those cells back, and they’re meant to target the lymphoma and kill the lymphoma cells.  

So, that is now an approved therapy for patients who don’t achieve the remission – so, who’s first chemo doesn’t work or if they relapse within a year of completing chemo. So, that’s a possibility. The chemo and transplants a possibility. Or there’s other approved therapies now, that can be given as second options or third or later options, which have been shown to keep patients in remission for a while.  

Katherine:

Dr. Maddocks, you touched up on this a moment ago, but what are the approaches if a patient relapses? What do you do?   

Dr. Maddocks:

So, you would rework them up if they relapsed. Similar to that, if they relapse within a year and they have access to the CAR-T and they’re healthy for that, then that’ll be an option. The second type of chemotherapy in the transplant. So, you can’t just go straight to a transplant. You have to get a different type of chemotherapy to try to get the disease under control again, before you would go to a transplant.  

Or there’s a number of other targeted therapies that are approved. So, there’s other – I talked about rituximab (Rituxan) is given in the first line, that targets a CD-20 protein, there’s an antibody that targets a CD-19 protein that’s given out in relapse. There’s another antibody drug – there’s actually two antibody drug conjugates. So, an antibody that targets the protein on the cells that are attached to a chemo, that’s given. Or there’s different chemotherapy and then even some oral therapies.  

Katherine:

Okay. So, there’s a lot of different options available for people.  

Dr. Maddocks:

Correct. And there’s always clinical trials. So, there’s always the option to find something where we’re studying some of these newer therapies. They’re therapies in combination.  

Understanding DLBCL Treatment Classes

Understanding DLBCL Treatment Classes from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Kami Maddocks reviews diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment approaches, including options for patients who are considered high-risk or who have relapsed. Dr. Maddocks goes on to review which factors are considered when selecting a therapy and the potential for curative treatment.

Dr. Kami Maddocks is a hematologist who specializes in treating patients with B-cell malignancies at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Maddocks.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s turn to treatment options. Is a person with DLBCL treated right away?  

Dr. Maddocks:

They’re treated pretty quickly after the diagnosis. So, typically, when somebody has a diagnosis, they undergo a number of different tests, including lab work, imaging work, sometimes for their biopsies.  

So, that information is gathered over days to sometimes a few weeks process. Then, when you have all that information, you go over the results, go over the treatment at that time. So, it’s typically treated not within, usually, a day of diagnosis but it’s not something that you spend weeks or months before treating.  

Katherine:

Yeah. What are the different types of treatments available?  

Dr. Maddocks:

So, the diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is treated with chemotherapy and immunotherapy. So, a combination of an immune antibody therapy and chemotherapy. There is a role in some cases for radiation, but never just radiation alone and never just surgery alone. So, there’s always what we call a systemic treatment so, a treatment that goes everywhere. Because this is considered a blood cancer, it’s a cancer of those cells, it can really spread anywhere.  

And so, just cutting it out with surgery or just radiating the area doesn’t treat everything, even if you can’t identify it.  

Katherine:

Can you get specific about some of the treatment classes?   

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. So, the most common treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is a chemo immunotherapy called R-CHOP. So, this is three chemotherapies and antibody therapy that’s direct called rituximab (Rituxan) that’s directed at a protein on the lymphoma cells. And then, a steroid called prednisone, given with the chemo and then for a few days after. There was a study that recently showed an improvement with switching one of those drugs with another immunotherapy that’s an antibody conjugated to a chemo drug. But that’s not yet been approved. There are clinical trials available. So, looking at these treatments that might be new or combining therapies with this standard treatment.  

And then, very occasionally, there are certain features of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. There are particular few different subtypes that are classified a little bit differently, that are treated within an infusional therapy called Dose Adjusted R-EPOCH.  

Katherine:

What about stem cell therapy? Is that used?  

Dr. Maddock:

Stem cell therapy is used in the relapse setting. So, if a patient doesn’t go into a remission or if they relapse after achieving a remission with their chemotherapy, then stem cell transplant is an option. So, there are actually two different types of stem cell transplant. One from yourself and one from somebody else. In lymphoma, we typically do one from yourself, where you donate your own cell before. But we don’t use that as part of the initial treatment.   

Katherine:

So, if somebody is high risk, Dr. Maddocks, is the approach different for them? 

Dr. Maddocks:

So, it depends. We define high risk in different ways. So, there’s a specific type of lymphoma called double hit lymphoma, where there’s a few chromosomal translocations associated with the lymphoma, that we give a little more aggressive chemo immunotherapy regimen. There are also other subtypes, including a rare type of lymphoma called primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma. Again, categorized a little bit different but sometimes included as a large cell lymphoma. We also give that treatment for.   

Katherine:

Okay. So, there’s a lot of different options available for people.  

Dr. Maddocks:

Correct. And there’s always clinical trials. So, there’s always the option to find something where we’re studying some of these newer therapies. They’re therapies in combination.   

Katherine:

Is a cure possible?  

Dr. Maddocks:

Yes. A cure is possible. When you look at patients who are treated with initial chemotherapy, we cure somewhere between 60 percent to 70 percent of patients with the initial chemotherapy. If patients’ relapse, depending on their age and their condition, they’re candidates for other therapies.  

And therapy including other chemo and stem cell transplant is potentially curable in some patients. And then, there’s a newer therapy called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, or CAR T-cell therapy, which also looks like it’s curing a subset of patients who relapse or don’t respond to initial therapy.  

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

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

What should you consider when choosing acute myeloid leukemia (AML) care and treatment? Dr. Eytan Stein reviews factors that help guide care decisions for AML, discusses the goals of treatment as well as treatment options available, and shares tools for taking an active role in your care.

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

See More from Thrive AML

Related Resources:

Thriving With AML: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment Resource Guide

Shared Decision-Making, Advice for Partnering With Your AML Team

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


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:  

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. Today’s program is about how to live and thrive with AML. We’re going to discuss the goals of AML treatment and how you can play an active role in your care. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining us is Dr. Eytan Stein. Dr. Stein, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?  

Dr. Stein:

Thanks so much. My name is Eytan Stein. I work as an attending physician on the leukemia service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

Thank you for having me.  

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so thriving with AML I think can mean different things to different people. Thriving with AML can mean when you have the disease, really having the fortitude to get through the treatment that you’re being given because sometimes that can be tough.  

And sometimes, it’s not easy. But the people who are thriving are the ones who are able to discuss with their doctors what their treatment is, what the side effects of that treatment might be, how to minimize those side effects, and how to get through that treatment so that not only do they feel better physically but can feel better emotionally and ultimately, hopefully go into a complete remission. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for that, Dr. Stein. I think that helps guide us as we continue this conversation. Getting appropriate AML care is part of thriving, and when we consider treatment options, it’s important to understand the goal of treatment. So, how would you define treatment goals for patients? 

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so the treatment goals for patients really come in different forms. I think fundamentally what everyone wants is everyone wants to go into a complete remission and be cured of their disease. And certainly, that’s an overarching goal that we aim to achieve with our treatments. But there are other goals that I think are important too to various patient populations, depending on what stage of life they’re in.  

Are they 85 years old or 90 years old and have lived a long, full life? And their goal might be to improve their blood count so they don’t need transfusions so frequently. And they might be able to go to that grandchild or great-grandchild’s wedding or other life event. There are other patients for whom the goal might be, very discreetly, just to get to that next step in their treatment.   

That next step in their treatment might be a bone marrow transplant. The next step in their treatment might be some more therapy. But I think overall as a doctor, our goal is always to do our best to get our patients into a complete remission and cure them while maintaining the best quality of life for our patients.  

Katherine Banwell:

What do you think is the patient’s role in setting treatment goals? 

Dr. Stein:

Well, it’s really important for the doctor to explore the goals of treatment when they first meet with the patient. I don’t think doctors should assume that all patients come into that first visit with the same goals. And what those goals are, I think, may differ a little bit from patient to patient. And it’s really important for the patient to express overtly what their goals are, what they want to achieve from the treatment. You know, I have some patients who come in to me and say, “My goal is to be cured and be alive for the next 30 years” or 40 years or 50 years.  

And I have some patients that come into treatment, and they say, “You know what, I have had a very, very long life, and I just want the best quality I can have for as long as I can possibly have it.” 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, that’s great advice. Thank you. As we move into the discussion about treatment for AML, let’s define a couple of terms that are often mentioned in AML care. What is induction therapy?   

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so induction chemotherapy refers really to a type of chemotherapy that tends to be quite intensive, so strong chemotherapy that patients receive in the hospital setting. That induction chemotherapy typically requires a hospitalization of three to four weeks, sometimes a little bit longer, as the patient gets their treatment during the first week or so and then they’re recovering from the effects of that treatment during the next three weeks in the hospital.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. What is consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Stein:

Ah. So, a patient first gets induction chemotherapy. If they achieve a complete remission, so their disease goes away, that’s great. We know their disease seems to be gone. But we also know that patients relapse. So, if patients relapse, it means their disease wasn’t really gone. It’s just that we couldn’t find it. It was hiding somewhere.  

So, consolidation chemotherapy is chemotherapy that is given after a patient is in complete remission in an effort to kill any residual leukemia cells that may be hiding in the body, that we can’t see in our bone marrow biopsies, in an effort to deepen the remission that we’ve achieved during induction.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Are there any other terms that patients should be familiar with? 

Dr. Stein:

There are. You know, there are a lot of other terms that patients should be familiar with. I’ll just touch on one because it can get complicated. We now have for acute myeloid leukemia, a type of therapy that goes beyond induction and consolidation called maintenance therapy.  

Maintenance therapy is when a patient is done with induction, done with consolidation, and the question is, can you give them something that is easy to take, relatively non-toxic, that they can take for a prolonged period of time, to also help prevent relapse? Maintenance therapy has been really a backbone of the treatment of a different kind of leukemia called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which happens primarily in children for many years. Maintenance therapy is also now a backbone of therapy for a different kind of blood cancer called multiple myeloma. And very recently, only within the past year to two years, we’ve incorporated maintenance therapy for AML for certain groups of patients.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. What are the treatment types available to AML patients? You mentioned chemotherapy. What else is there? 

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so if I was having this discussion with you, even when I first started my career back in 2013, all I would’ve been talking to you about was induction chemotherapy and maybe a lower-dose chemotherapy called hypomethylating agents.  

I think one thing that really needs to be recognized is that the advances we’ve made for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia, over the past 10 years, have been just remarkable. We’ve had a number up to nine drug approvals over the past 10 years, and those therapies fall into the following categories.  

We now have therapies outside the strong induction consolidation we talked about. We have therapies such as targeted therapies that target specific gene mutations that are present in patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Those are often oral therapies that patients can take at home. And we have very effective therapies for older patients who usually can’t handle the side effects of induction chemotherapy. That’s the combination of a type of drug called a hypomethylating agent with a very, very powerful targeted drug called a BCL-2 inhibitor.  

One of those drugs, that drug is called venetoclax (Venclexta). That’s the one that’s FDA-approved. And the combination of those hypomethylating agents and venetoclax, has really changed the paradigm for how we treat older patients with acute myeloid leukemia, led to many patients who have been able to live much longer than they would have before this therapy came about.  

You know, there are other therapies that are in development, but I don’t know if we’ll end up talking about that a little bit later. But there are therapies such as immunotherapy, which has gotten a lot of press for other kinds of cancers, like one cancer called the rectal cancer, that aren’t yet approved for acute myeloid leukemia but are being developed for acute myeloid.  

So, the future of acute – the current treatments for acute myeloid leukemia are dramatically better than they were 10 years ago, and I would anticipate that we’re going to continue to see these kind of advances over the next 10 years.  

Katherine Banwell:

And we are going to talk further about that in a couple of minutes. What about stem cell transplant? Who might be right for that? Who might be eligible? 

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so let’s go back to the discussion a little bit about consolidation chemotherapy. So, when you have a patient that gets induction chemotherapy or gets any therapy – it doesn’t have to be chemotherapy – to put their disease into remission, for a large group of patients, we think that the best way to cure their disease is to do something called a stem cell transplant.  

So, what’s a stem cell transplant. What it is not is like a heart transplant or a liver transplant, which patients often don’t realize.  

So, it’s not a procedure where an organ is being transplanted through a surgical procedure. What it is is it’s acknowledging that the cause of acute myeloid leukemia is that the most primitive cells in the bone marrow, called the stem cells, are the cause of the disease. And the chemotherapies that we give patients to get them into remission don’t always eradicate those bad stem cells.  

So, what we’re able to do once a patient is in remission is we try to get them new stem cells. How do you get a patient new stem cells? Well, you go to a donor, and there’s a donor bank of people who have volunteered to donate stem cells to patients with acute myeloid leukemia. You go to the donor bank, and then you give chemotherapy to the patient to sort of wipe out their bad stem cells, and then you give them new stem cells that will hopefully permanently eradicate the disease.  

What ends up happening is that a large group of patients with acute myeloid leukemia end up being referred for a stem cell transplant. The reason is twofold. You know, it used to be – I keep talking about the past. I’m getting older, and so now I can talk about the past.  

Katherine Banwell:

We’ll talk about the future in a couple of minutes. 

Dr. Stein:

Yeah. So, it used to be that stem cell transplants were really reserved to people less than 65 years old.  

But our advances in our ability to do stem cell transplants has allowed for us to now successfully do stem cell transplants on patients, even into their upper 70s and sometimes even at the age of 80.  

Katherine Banwell:

Wow, okay. That’s great. Where do clinical trials fit in to all of this? 

Dr. Stein:

Ah. So, clinical trials are extraordinarily important for a variety of reasons. Clinical trials are important because the only way we make advances on a societal level in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia is by patients who are willing to participate in clinical trials. All of the – because these are trials that are testing new therapies with the goal of improving the survival and the quality of life of patients with acute myeloid leukemia. All these drugs I just talked about that have been approved over the past 10 years, they never would’ve been approved if patients hadn’t agreed to participate in clinical trials. So, that’s something that’s number one that’s very important.  

But on a – forget the societal level for a second. On a patient-specific level, a clinical trial can potentially benefit a patient because it offers a patient access to a new, exciting therapy that may really help in improving their outcome of having acute myeloid leukemia.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. You mentioned emerging therapies. What are some of those? 

Dr. Stein:

Oh, there’s so many. So, it’s hard to talk about all of them, but I think there are targeted therapies – I think if you sort of break them up into sort of broad buckets, there are new targeted therapies that are being developed for subsets of patients with acute myeloid leukemia. One of the ones I’ve been working on pretty heavily over the past few years is a kind of drug called a menin inhibitor. This is an oral medication that is given to patients of acute myeloid leukemia who have certain genetic abnormalities, specifically either a mutation in a gene called NPM1, or a what is called a rearrangement in a gene called MLL.  

So, that’s a group of – that menin inhibition seems to be extraordinarily effective in treating patients, at least from the early data, for those specific subtypes of acute leukemia.  

The other therapies that are really getting a lot of play now are the immunotherapies, which I mentioned a second ago. There are immunotherapies that work to – called bispecific immunotherapies where what happens is it works to harness the immune system to kill the cancer cells. You may have heard a lot about CAR T-cell therapy, which is another way of harnessing the immune system and engineering immune cells to target acute myeloid leukemia cells. And the other thing I want to point out is that even if you don’t have a new therapy against a new target, you can imagine now that we’ve got all these 10 new approved drugs.  

But what we’re trying to figure out – one of the things we’re trying to figure out over the past few years has been what’s the best way to give these new drugs? What kind of combinations can you put them in that might make things even better? Maybe you should give two of those drugs first and then give another drug afterwards. And a lot of the research that’s being done now is being done to understand the best sequencing and combinations of drugs with the drugs that we already have approved. 

Katherine Banwell:

Great. All patients are different, of course, and what might work for one person might not be appropriate for another. How do you choose which treatment is right for a patient? 

Dr. Stein:

So, it’s an individualized decision. So, what you’re talking to the patient, as we talked about at the very beginning, is you really need to understand the patient’s goals for treatment. You need to understand the anticipated benefit of the treatment that you’re offering and need to understand the side effects of the treatment. 

So, and that sort of becomes the puzzle that you work with the patient at putting together. That is how well do I expect this treatment to work? What are the potential side effects of the treatment, and what are the patient’s goals? And when you sort of lay all those different pieces out, you then usually come up with something that becomes pretty clear what the best thing to do is.  

So, I’ll give you just a very concrete example of this. Sometimes, we have treatments where the medical data would suggest that they might work as well as one another, right? There’s no clear difference between each of the two treatments. But maybe one of the two treatments requires you to be in the hospital, and one of the treatments allows you to be at home.  

So, that’s an important discussion to have with the patient because some patients, believe it or not, want to be in the hospital, because they’re worried about being at home and having to manage this all themselves. Some patients don’t want to be in the hospital. Some patients want to be at home, because they’re scared of the hospital, or they’re worried the food’s going to be terrible.  

And then, that would be important in helping the patient make the decision for their treatment.  

Katherine Banwell:

Right. You mentioned earlier, Dr. Stein, the difference in ages and how you would treat different people depending on their age. So, when you’re choosing a treatment, you obviously look at age. What else? Things like comorbidities?  

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so age, so I’m not ageist. So, it’s more that as people get older – and this is just a fact of life – as everyone gets older, their organs don’t work quite as well anymore, right? Things start breaking down as you get older. So, certain treatments aren’t appropriate for older people because the treatments a younger person, because their organs are working at 100 percent, may be able to handle it, while an older person, where their organs might only be working at 60, 70 percent, the treatment might not be as good of a choice for them. 

So, that’s what I mean. So, as people age, their comorbidities increase. So, we always look at comorbidities, and if you had an 80-year-old that was running marathons, I might think about their treatment differently than an 80-year-old who is not running marathons. But most 80- and 85-year-olds aren’t running marathons, so that’s why we sometimes think about their treatment differently.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Why is identification of genetic markers essential before choosing treatment?   

Dr. Stein:

Because when you know the genetic markers, you can target the genetic abnormalities, sometimes with specific targeted therapies, with therapies that fit like a key in a specific lock. And those targeted therapies have been shown, in some cases, to improve the survival of the patients, without much cost, without much toxicity. So, I’ll give you an example of this.  

There is a very common genetic abnormality in patients with acute myeloid leukemia called the FLT3 or FLT3 mutation. When you have that mutation, there is a targeted therapy that targets the FLT3 mutation called midostaurin, and it’s been shown in a very large clinical trial that the addition of the targeted FLT3 inhibitor midostaurin in combination with chemotherapy leads to better overall survival than chemotherapy alone.   

So, you need to know that information because you want to give your patient the best chance at beating the disease. And that’s why it’s also important to try to get this information back quickly. You know, no one wants to be sitting around waiting for four weeks to find out if they’ve got a specific mutation. And we’ve gotten better. I think medical centers generally have gotten better at getting this mutational information back to their doctors relatively quickly. 

 Katherine Banwell:

Does every patient get this standard testing? 

Dr. Stein:

It is – does everyone get it? I don’t know. But “Should everyone get it?” is, I think, the important question. Yes, everyone should get this testing.  

 It is incorporated into the NCCN and National Comprehensive Cancer Network and European Leukemia Net guidelines. It is important not only because you can think about targeted therapies, but it is also important for prognostic reasons, meaning that certain mutations lead to a higher risk of relapse, and those mutations in a patient might lead me to recommend a stem cell transplant, which is sort of the most intensive thing we can do to help prevent a relapse, while other mutations, which might be “favorable”, in quotes, they might lead me not to recommend a stem cell transplant.   

So, I think this mutational testing is the standard of care and should be done in every patient with newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia.  

Katherine Banwell:

Once treatment has begun, Dr. Stein, how do you know if it’s working? 

Dr. Stein:

So, that’s a good question. So, the good thing about acute myeloid leukemia when it comes to understanding what’s going on, you know, it’s a disease of the bone marrow cells. And we do bone marrow biopsies to see how things are doing. But no one likes a bone marrow biopsy. It can be a somewhat uncomfortable procedure.  

Katherine Banwell:

How often would a patient need to have a biopsy?  

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so they have bone marrow biopsies at diagnosis, and then they often will have bone marrow biopsies two weeks to a month later.  

And then, if they’re in remission, basically any time you think if you want to check to see if they’re in remission or if you suspect the patient is relapsing. Then, you would do a bone marrow biopsy. But what I was getting at is that but you have blood. And the blood is kind of like the bellwether of what’s going on in the bone marrow.  

So, the analogy I use for my patients is, you know, when you’re driving your car and you have – you know, you don’t open the hood every day to make sure the car is running okay. You know, you’re driving your car, and if your car starts making a funny clinking sound, that’s when you open the hood.   

So, the blood is like the clinking sound. If you see something going wrong in the blood, that’s when you know you’ve gotta open the hood and look under the hood. If the car is running just fine and you don’t see anything wrong in the blood, using the analogy, maybe you don’t need to do a bone marrow biopsy. 

Katherine Banwell:

What if a treatment isn’t working? What if it stops working or if the patient relapses? What do you do then?  

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so when a patient relapses, which unfortunately happens more than we want it to, it’s important No. 1 to do another bone marrow biopsy and at that point, do that mutational testing again because the mutations that are present at the time of diagnosis are not necessarily going to be present at the time of relapse, and sometimes, a new mutation might occur at the time of relapse. And again, what that mutational profile shows can help determine what the next best treatment for the patient is. There might be standard-of-care therapies. More chemotherapy might be recommended.  

When a patient relapses, I usually – excuse me – try to get them on a clinical trial because that’s the point where I think clinical trial drugs really have potentially major benefit for the patients, to help get them back into remission. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it essential for patients to share any issues they may be having with their healthcare team, specifically, sharing their symptoms and side effects?  

Dr. Stein:

Well, it’s important because we want to help you. I mean, I think that’s what it comes down to. All of us, whether it’s your doctor or your nurses or your nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant or anyone who is part of the healthcare system, we went into this business to help people. I mean, we knew what we were getting into when we went into this, and we want to help people. And one of the ways you help people is you help with their symptoms. So, if you’re not feeling well, you call up, and you say, “I’m not feeling well,” we can help you with that. You shouldn’t suffer in silence.  

I sometimes have patients who will say to me, “Oh, I was going to call you, but I didn’t want to bother you.” You’re not bothering us. This is what – it’s not like you’re calling and asking for mortgage advice, right? This is what we do. So, it’s very important to call us because the other thing is that you’re going to be more – it’s more likely that you’ll be able to complete your treatment if we manage the side effects that you’re having rather than just ignoring them.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, that’s great advice. With more oral therapies becoming available, patients now have a role in self-administering their treatment. So, what happens if a patient forgets to take a medication? Does that impact its effectiveness? 

Dr. Stein:

The easy answer to that question is probably not. You know, if you forget to take a medication for three weeks, that’s not a good thing, but if there’s a – you know, this happens all the time, right?   

You’re busy, and you just forget. If you forget to take a medication one night or one day, it almost certainly is not going to make a huge difference. Having said that, you shouldn’t see that as license to not be careful. So, it is important to try. So, set an alarm; put out a pill container do the kinds of things that can help you.   

The other thing, there is a certain what I would call pill fatigue that sets in. Often, patients with AML are taking multiple medications at multiple times a day, and it can be hard. And at my center, we have pharmacists who do a lot of different things, but one of the things they can help with is sort of streamlining patients’ pill burden to make it easier for them to remember and to take the medications when they’re supposed to take them.  

Katherine Banwell:

When a patient does forget to take a dose or even a couple of days’ doses, should they call their healthcare team and let them know? 

Dr. Stein:

Yes, always call. Always call.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. I want to make sure we get to some of the audience questions. These were sent to us in advance of the program. Let’s start with this one from Patrick. He writes, “Are there any clinical trials looking at maintenance therapy for the AML patients, especially older patients?” 

Dr. Stein:

Yes, there are a number of clinical trials that are looking at maintenance therapy for older patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Some of those trials are maintenance therapies with targeted agents that are against specific mutations. Some of those trials are clinical trials with more broadly active agents that might be able to be used as maintenance therapy, so yes. Maintenance therapy is something that is really coming to the fore, and I would encourage you to seek out trials that might offer maintenance therapy.

Katherine Banwell:

Aaron sent in this question: “What are the most promising new effective drugs on the verge of being approved by the FDA, and what do they do?” 

Dr. Stein:

Yeah, so I’ll just mention the one I mentioned a second ago, and that’s the class of drugs called menin inhibitors. I wouldn’t quite say they’re on the verge of being approved by the FDA, but I think that they’re very, very powerful drugs that within the next two or three years, they will likely be approved by the FDA if the early clinical trials continue to pan out. And those are drugs that at least in the early experience, seem to be specific for patients with these NPM1 mutations or these MLL rearrangements. And your doctor will know what those are if you ask them, “Do I have an NPM1 mutation, or do I have an MLL rearrangement?” 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for that, Dr. Stein. And to our viewers, please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org, and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs.   

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

Dr. Stein:

My advice is, speak up. You just speak up. It’s very important. It’s your – you know, at the end of the day, this is a disease that you are experiencing. Your doctor is there to partner with you and to guide you, but it’s your body. It’s your disease, and you need to be very vocal in what you’re experiencing and advocate for yourself.  

Katherine Banwell:

If a patient has difficulty voicing their questions or concerns, are there members of the support staff who could help?  

Dr. Stein:

Most centers have a social worker on staff that can help them out. I highly, highly encourage all of my patients to meet with a therapist or a psychologist that specializes in taking care of patients with cancer. I have become more vocal about this that I see. Really, it’s probably the best thing a patient can do for themselves, and there’s no downside. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back. Do one appointment and not go back. But that can be extremely helpful, extremely helpful.  

So, it’s important in both ways. You need to alert your doctor that you might be feeling one way, but I think it’s also on the doctor to sort of take visual cues from the patient when they see them to understand what they might need and to make those kind of recommendations.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. As we close out our conversation, Dr. Stein, I wanted to get your take on the future of AML. What makes you hopeful?  

Dr. Stein:

Oh, so many things make me hopeful. I mean, we understand this disease so much more than we understood it even 10 years ago. There are all sorts of new treatments that are being developed. We’re improving the survival of our patients with the new treatments that have already been approved over the past 10 years. And I really think the golden age of AML treatment is upon us, and I really think that – and some people might think I’m crazy – but I really think that by the time I’m done with this, you know, one day, I’ll get too old, and I’ll decide I need to go retire and spend time with my family. But I think by that time, we’re going to be curing the vast majority of our patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s so positive. It’s great to hear that there’s been so much advancement and that there’s so much hope out there for AML patients. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to join us today, Dr. Stein.  

Dr. Stein:

Okay, thank you. It was really nice to be here.   

Katherine Banwell:

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