Tag Archive for: measurable residual disease

The Importance of Molecular Testing Following an AML Relapse

The Importance of Molecular Testing Following an AML Relapse from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why do you need molecular testing following an AML relapse? Dr. Sanam Loghavi emphasizes the importance of this essential testing and why it’s necessary following relapse.

Dr. Sanam Loghavi is a hematopathologist and molecular pathologist at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Loghavi.

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Katherine Banwell:

Unfortunately, relapse can happen following a course of treatment for AML. Should patients undergo molecular testing again before choosing another round of therapy?  

Dr. Sanam Loghavi:

100 percent yes, that is always a yes. So, like I said, at baseline there are certain recommendations and the standard of care is to perform genetic testing.  

But I cannot emphasize this enough, that AML or any cancer, for that matter, cancers tend to be smart, so they bypass the mechanisms that we try to eliminate by our targeted therapies.  

So, oftentimes the genetic landscape of disease will actually change upon relapse or what we refer to as clonal evolution, and you may hear this terminology in the literature. So, it’s very important to molecularly or genetically characterize the disease at relapse before you decide how you are going to alter the course of treatment at that point. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Loghavi, what are you excited about in your research right now? 

Dr. Sanam Loghavi:

Sure. So, I’m a pathologist, so I do a lot of molecular testing, and I also do a lot of measurable residual disease testing, and measurable residual disease tends to be one of the most informative factors in the care of patients with acute myeloid leukemia. So, these are the things that we’re very excited about, again, identifying better molecular targets of therapy, being able to measure residual disease at a more sensitive level that allows us to make better informed decisions for the care of our patients. And also, again, identifying the mechanisms of how AML develops in order to be able to eliminate the disease.  

What Is Minimal Residual Testing in Multiple Myeloma?

What is Minimal Residual Testing in Multiple Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is minimal residual testing (MRD) used for multiple myeloma patients? Watch as expert Dr. Nina Shah explains the use of MRD testing, and myeloma patient and Empowerment Lead Lisa Hatfield shares her knowledge of MRD testing and how specialists use it in treatment and care.

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Dr. Nina Shah:

Minimal residual disease is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the disease that you can’t see under the microscope, but it’s still there. And I sort of equate it to the little deep food particles that are in a pot after you clean it and really, really scrub it, but still, something is in there. And that’s what it is for myeloma.

Minimal residual disease testing, or MRD testing, is performed to locate any small number of cancer cells that remain in the cancer patient’s bone marrow during or following treatment. The presence of any remaining cancer cells is the most common cause of relapse in blood cancers, so MRD testing is used to gauge treatment success, to compare different treatments, to detect myeloma recurrence, to monitor patient remission, and to help choose optimal treatments. 

Lisa Hatfield:

So when I was first diagnosed, MRD testing, or minimal residual disease testing, sometimes called measurable residual disease testing, was just, they were looking at having it approved by the FDA for clinical trials only. Still it was only approved for clinical trials as an end point. However, a lot of myeloma specialists are using this MRD testing to help guide decisions. It’s not approved for that yet but to help guide decisions for patients who have a really great response to their induction chemo and stem cell transplant that they may have after induction chemo and after some years of maintenance to see if they can possibly go off of their maintenance therapy. It is occasionally being used, MRD testing, is being used to help guide providers and patients on where to go with treatment. So MRD testing requires a bone marrow biopsy. The most sensitive MRD testing is called clonoSEQ testing, it is NGS testing. It does require the original bone marrow sample, and then they can track that over time each year or however often you have bone marrow biopsies to see if the cloned cells are still there.

So MRD testing right now requires the bone marrow biopsy. I’m hoping that someday it can be done with a blood test, but it’s really important for tracking purposes to see if you’re responding to therapy, to see if you’re staying in remission during maintenance therapy. And it’s even worthwhile too if you’re having toxicities from maintenance therapy to consider going off of that therapy. You can test to see, right now the MRD testing is testing to see if they can find one myeloma cell out of one million cells. So it’s called 10-6 MRD testing. That’s the most sensitive test that’s out there to date and really important if you’re considering possibly going off of maintenance therapy or are having significant toxicities during your treatment.

What Is MRD-Positive Acute Myeloid Leukemia?

What Is MRD-Positive Acute Myeloid Leukemia? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients need to know about MRD-positive AML? Dr. Catherine Lai from Penn Medicine discusses minimal residual disease (MRD). Learn about the meaning of MRD, complete remission, and MRD testing methods.

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Lai: “Ask if MRD testing can be done on your bone marrow biopsy at the time at which you or after you’ve had your chemotherapy.” 

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Dr. Lai, what is MRD-positive AML?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

So, that’s a really good question. And to answer that question, I’m going to actually answer a different question, which is, What is the definition of complete remission? So the definition of complete remission is when we do a bone marrow biopsy, and we have less than 5 percent of those blasts or leukemia cells in the bone marrow, and that is also in the setting of a relatively normal immune system or normal other blood counts have improved, so that your neutrophil count is above 1,000, and your platelet count is above 100,000. So, MRD, which stands for measurable residual disease, means that you’re in complete remission, so you have less than 5 percent blasts, but you’re more than zero.

And we, in general, when patients who are MRD-positive, we know that if you were to do nothing, that those patients have a high likelihood of relapse. We know for the patients who are going to transplant, if you’re MRD-positive before transplant, those patients also have a higher likelihood of relapsing after transplant. And so we tend to monitor it if possible…the tricky thing is, is that there is not a standard way to measure MRD testing as of yet, the common approaches are right now are with either flow cytometry or with PCR or next-generation sequencing, if you have a particular targeted mutation that we can follow.

So your activation from that standpoint is to ask if MRD testing can be done on your bone marrow biopsy at the time at which you or after you’ve had your chemotherapy. 

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2022 ASH Meeting | Multiple Myeloma Takeaways

This is my 17th year attending ASH (American Society of Hematology), where typically over 30,000 attendees from all over the world (hematologists/oncologists, lab researchers, oncology nurses, scientists and 300 pharma companies) attend. This year ASH was set up as a hybrid meeting where some attended in person and many, including myself, virtually. I’m grateful to the IMF (www.myeloma.org) and their sponsoring pharma donors Takeda, Amgen, and Karyopharm for registering me for ASH so that I could learn and subsequently share my patient perspective with you.

My Takeaways

This year’s ASH continued to expand our knowledge on immunotherapies…more CAR-T’s and bispecific antibodies (“T-cell directing therapies”)…as well as more targets besides BCMA…and most importantly, side effects such as cytopenia (lower blood counts), cytokine release syndrome (CRS), neurotoxicity, and infections.  At present, approved treatments in the area include CAR-T’s Abeca and Carvyti as well as the bispecific Tecvayli (Teclistamab), but these are currently only available for patients relapsed-refractory patients with >=4 lines of previous therapy.  The good news is that all of these CAR-Ts and bispecifics are in clinical trials for patients with fewer prior treatments, even newly diagnosed patients in some cases!

Another area that needs better treatment options are Multiple Myeloma (MM) patients considered High Risk (HR) or ultra-high risk (>1 HR factor), as well as High Risk Smoldering Myeloma (HR SMM). Whereas some current studies show that media Overall Survival for MM is 10 years, HR patients are typically half that.  And for HR SMM patients who have a good chance to progress to full blown MM within 2 years, is it possible that treatment at this pre-MM stage could delay progression or actually cure a patient from getting MM.

We know that if we achieve a Complete Response via blood tests which show no sign of an M-spike, that unfortunately the myeloma will still likely return, indicating that we still have myeloma but these tests are not sensitive enough to see it. Tests with more sensitivity are referred to as MRD (Minimal/Measurable Residual Disease) tests (Next Generation Sequencing and Next Generation Flow) from bone marrow biopsies and Mass Spectrometry tested via a patient’s blood. They are good prognosticators but typically not used to help guide treatment (for example, when to stop maintenance). If we knew when to stop treatment or change treatment, patients would more likely do better.

This leads to the discussion that we have many treatments available these days but what’s the best treatment for a patient being newly diagnosed, transplant-eligible or not, maintenance (for how long), treatment at first relapse, subsequent relapses? Many of the study results from ASH try to answer these questions via clinical trial results (but that’s still not a personalized treatment so it’s always important to ask your doctor questions and be part of that shared decision making).

Finally, the important topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) was discussed more at this ASH than ever before and got its own Spotlight Education session. We need better representation of underrepresented populations in clinical trials. For example, 20% of MM patients are Black and yet they represent <5% of patients in MM trials. If we don’t improve upon this, trial results may lack internal validity resulting in poor external validity for the populations they are meant to serve.

For more patient information about ASH, there are many excellent webinars coming up from your favorite myeloma advocacy organization. And another great source are blogs written by patients (including myself) which you’ll find on the IMF website (https://ash2022blogs.myeloma.org/).

In summary, this year’s ASH continued to amaze me with so many studies in Myeloma, focusing on all stages from Smoldering Myeloma to MM Induction through Relapse. Clearly immunotherapy treatments, CAR-T’s and Bi-specific T-cell engagers were predominant among the oral presentations I attended, providing longer-term data on these new treatments. And importantly, other targets besides BCMA are being investigated.

For someone diagnosed with stage III MM 28 years ago with only 2 treatment options available (MP or VAD-SCT) and given 2-3 years expected survival, I’ve seen incredible progress since 2003 when Velcade was first approved followed by 14 more approvals and many combination therapies. While there continues to be unanswered questions, we now have many more effective treatments for MM, providing patients with better opportunities to manage their disease. Newly diagnosed MM patients can justifiably be more optimistic about their new diagnosis than at any other time in history. ASH2022 highlighted the tremendous advances we have made in treating this cancer for both the newly diagnosed and relapsed patient.

AML Research Updates: News From ASH 2020

AML Research Updates: News from ASH 2020 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Jeffrey Lancet shares the latest news from the 2020 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting. Dr. Lancet sheds light on headlines from the meeting including FLT3 inhibitor research, combination therapies with venetoclax, a promising inhibitor therapy, and shares his optimism about the future of AML treatment.

Dr. Jeffrey Lancet is Chair and Program Lead in the Department of Malignant Hematology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. He is nationally and internationally recognized for his clinical research in the field of acute leukemias. Learn more about Dr. Lancet, here.

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Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell. Today we’ll discuss the latest news from ASH 2020 and how AML patients can advocate for personalized care. Joining me is Dr. Jeffrey Lancet. Welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Lancet:                   

Hi, sure. My name is Dr. Jeff Lancet. I’m at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, where I am the Chair of the Malignant Hematology Department. We spend a lot of time treating patients and conducting clinical trials of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.


Okay. Thank you. Dr. Lancet, the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting just closed. What are the AML headlines from this year’s meeting?

Dr. Lancet:                   

Yeah, so as usual, AML was a very busy area for clinical presentations this year at the ASH meeting focusing largely on novel and targeted therapies.

I don’t believe that there were many practice changing developments per se, but rather discussions about many promising therapeutic strategies that are still under development and moving forward rapidly largely in the areas of targeted therapy, low intensity therapy, measurable residual disease and things of that nature.


What does this research news mean for patients?

Dr. Lancet:                   

Well, I think that there’s a lot to be encouraged about and maybe I’ll take the time to review some of the highlights in what was presented with respect to some of the novel therapeutic approaches that many of our patients can look forward to receiving in the not too distant future.

So, we often talk about you know, targeted therapies and, of course, one of the major targets over the years has been that of mutated FLT3 which is one of the most common mutations in AML.

And at this meeting we saw several presentations on clinical trials resolved to utilizing inhibitors of FLT3, with some emphasis on the most recently approved second generation drug called gilteritinib.

There were I thought three major presentations focusing on gilteritinib and one was an update on a randomized Phase III trial comparing gilteritinib plus azacitidine versus azacitidine alone in newly diagnosed unfit for induction chemotherapy patients with FLT3 mutations, preliminarily showing good tolerability and high composite complete response rates in the combination on.

There was another trial of gilteritinib plus venetoclax in relapsed and refractory FLT3 mutated AML.

And what was interesting was that a very high percentage of patients achieved response with this combination of gilteritinib plus venetoclax, many of whom were heavily pretreated previously and many of whom had also gotten prior FLT3 inhibitor therapy during an early stage of the disease. So, the combination of gilteritinib and venetoclax and this more refractive study, it was encouraging to see these promising responses.

And then we saw some data reporting the effects of gilteritinib in combination with more traditional chemotherapy induction with a couple of studies demonstrating both a high complete response rates as well as high rates of mutation clearance of the FLT3 mutation.

So, those were very encouraging data that were presented with respect to the FLT3 mutated AML population.      

So, another very important drug that reached the marketplace for AML recently is a drug called venetoclax, which is an inhibitor of a protein called BCL2.

And this drug was recently FDA approved for use in combination with low intensity chemotherapy drugs such as azacitidine or decitabine.

And it seems as though the combination of venetoclax plus one of these hypomethylating agent drugs, azacitidine or decitabine has resulted in very, very strong efficacy signals as recently published in a New England Journal of Medicine paper that reported on the results of the Phase III trial of venetoclax plus azacitidine.

So, that has now become standard of care for older less fit adults with newly diagnosed AML; the combination of venetoclax plus a hypomethylating agent such as azacitidine.

And naturally, there’s been interest in really kind of taking it several steps further to advance the role of these combinations and to also look at additional drugs in combination with venetoclax plus hypomethylating agent therapy.

So, we saw some of that at the ASH meeting this year. One approach would be to take venetoclax and then to combine it with more intensive chemotherapy for perhaps more fit patients or younger patients that could undergo a more intensive program.

So, we saw presentations of venetoclax being combined with a drug called CPX-351, which is a novel liposome formulation of two common chemotherapy drugs that had been approved a few years ago for secondary AML. And we also saw a combination strategy with venetoclax, and a regimen known as FLAG-IDA, which is a commonly used induction regimen in acute myeloid leukemia.

And I think it’s important to recognize that although these trials that combine the venetoclax with more intensive chemotherapy showed signs of good efficacy with good response rates, there were definitely signals of increased toxicity, hematologic toxicity primarily, which is not completely unexpected with venetoclax knowing that it can cause significant lowering of white blood cells and platelets and hemoglobin.

And then finally, there is a lot of interest in, you know, doing these types of combinations with venetoclax in different subsets of AML and one subset of AML that has been very important recently is that of the IDH mutated AML population of patients.

IDH is a fairly common mutation that occurs either in the Isoform of IDH1 or IDH2 and there’s about a 15 to 20 percent incidence of IDH mutations in AML.

Now we do have an inhibitor for both of these types of mutations: ivosidenib for IDH1 and enasidenib for IDH2, but there also appears to be a strong role for venetoclax plus azacitidine in IDH mutated AML.

We saw from a series of patients presented by a physician at MD Anderson looking at outcomes with venetoclax plus azacitidine in IDH mutated AML. And the response rates were very high when you give HMA plus venetoclax to these patients with IDH mutated AML.

But I think more importantly was that there were what we call high intro patient response rates when switching between venetoclax and HMA therapy with an IDH inhibitor containing regimen.

In other words, a patient would have a good chance of responding to the initial therapy and then if or when that therapy stops working, having a good effect from a salvage therapy with the other regimen. So, when you see initially azacitidine plus venetoclax and then had a relapse, the IDH inhibitors worked well and vice versa if you had received an IDH inhibitor and then subsequently received HMA-venetoclax at a later time point that also worked well.

So, it’s encouraging to see that you can potentially sequence these drugs and get continued responses along the way and ultimately we think will help a survivor and keep patients in a better state of health even longer.               

So, I just wanted to take a few minutes also and discuss some of the newer more novel therapies that are really hitting or approaching the landscape right now. One of these is called CC486, also known as oral azacitidine or ONUREG. And this drug was shown in recent literature to prolong overall survival in patients who are in first remission from their AML who had received induction chemotherapy.

So, this drug was used as maintenance therapy after a variable number of consolidation regimens. And people who got this ONUREG or oral azacitidine drug as maintenance therapy, it resulted in longer survival compared to those who had received placebo.

And this was presented at last year’s ASH meeting, but this year’s ASH meeting provided an update, a very important update, showing that the overall survival advantage from this drug, this oral azacitidine drug, when used as maintenance was independent of whether a patient had measurable residual disease at the time that they went onto the maintenance therapy.

In other words, whether you had MRD, measurable residual disease or not at the time of the study entry, your responses were still more favorable, your outcomes were more favorable, if you received this oral azacitidine drug.

So, this was FDA approved earlier this year for patients in the maintenance phase of therapy for AML who had gotten prior reduction chemotherapy.

And importantly, this drug was also shown to be able to convert about 25% of patients who were positive for measurable residual disease; convert them from positive to negative. So, even though they were in remission, they had measurable residual disease and this drug in about 25 percent of the cases converted that from positive to negative. So, that’s a very important finding as well.

Another important drug that I think you should keep your eye on is a drug called magrolimab. This is an antibody against a certain type of protein that is present on the immune system cell called the macrophage, and when this magrolimab drug was combined with azacitidine in a recent clinical trial, it was demonstrated very high response rates of over 65 percent.

And, in particular, in patients with P53 mutations, which is a very bad mutation to have in most cancers, including AML, in patients with this high-risk mutation, the combination of magrolimab with azacitidine appears to be effective based upon the early data that we have with high response rates.

And then finally, I just wanted to make mention of another important area in, not really just AML, but in all cancer and that’s  outcomes disparities between different races and ethnic groups. And we saw a very important presentation at the plenary session this year where the authors reported outcomes amongst younger patients with AML who were African American compared with Caucasian.

And the data clearly indicated a worse overall survival amongst Black patients compared with white patients under age 60. And this included patients who were enrolled in clinical trials. So, that it appeared that African American patients have a worse outcome than Caucasian patients with acute myeloid leukemia highlighting the need to better understand various risk factors and other factors that play into these disparate outcomes between our Black American population and a white American population, which I think could shed light on additional disease characteristics that may help everybody as well.