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Thriving With MPNs: Your Role in Managing Your Treatment and Care

Thriving With MPNs: Your Role in Managing Your Treatment and Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 How can patients thrive with a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN)? Dr. Jeanne Palmer discusses treatment approaches, strategies for managing disease symptoms and treatment side effects, and advice on how patients can be proactive in their care.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

 

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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 talk about how to live and thrive with an MPN. We’re going to discuss MPN treatment goals 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, joining us today is Dr. Jeanne Palmer. Dr. Palmer, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Thank you so much. I am so happy to be here and to help participate in this. My name is Jeanne Palmer. I am a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. I specialize in MPNs as well as bone marrow transplant, and I am thrilled to be here. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today, Dr. Palmer. We start all of the webinars in our Thrive series with the same question and that is, what does it mean to you to thrive with an MPN? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

I think living with an MPN can be very difficult. I think there is a number of things. First of all, there’s always the worry of what’s going to happen in the future. Many of these MPNs can start as fairly, for lack of a better term, as benign issues and can convert to something much more serious. So, I think living with that sort of timebomb in the back it can be extremely stressful. So, figuring out how to live with the fact that there is some degree of uncertainty. 

I think the other thing is making sure to understand your disease. These are very rare disorders and even if you go to a hematologist-oncologist specialist, a lot of times they don’t have all the information because they don’t see a lot of them every year. So, it’s really important to make sure that above and beyond that you understand what’s going on in your body so that when new things happen, new symptoms happen, you’re able to really address them as opposed to sort of living with something that may make you feel poorly that’s not being addressed.  

So, again, I think the biggest piece of this is seeing how do you live with uncertainty and how do you make sure you understand your disease well enough that you know what’s going on in your own body. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. That’s helpful to understand, especially as we move through today’s program, and we’re going to cover the three classic MPNs, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia and myelofibrosis. One part of thriving with an MPN is managing the symptoms of the disease. Would you walk us through the common symptoms of each of the MPNs? Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Right. So, there are a number of shared symptoms throughout all the diseases and when we start to figure out how to categorize them, they call into several different categories. The first one is inflammation-related symptoms. We know that the inherent pathway that’s dysregulated or that causes these diseases to happen can also result in significant inflammation in a person, that can result in things like fevers, night sweats, weight loss, and overall feeling really fatigued and poorly, which is something that it seems to be much more prevalent in patients with MPNs, all sorts of them, actually. 

The next set of symptoms is related to microvasculature, so all the little blood vessels. And sometimes we think, oh, maybe that’s because there’s too many red blood cells or platelets and the blood become viscous. It’s probably more related to the actual dysregulation of that JAK2 pathway, which is inherent to all the myeloproliferative diseases and as a result, the little blood vessels can clamp down and that can give people headaches, visual changes, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, and even can cause sort of a painful rash called erythromelalgia in the body. 

So, these are things that can happen that are probably less appreciated side effects of the disease. And finally, there’s spleen-related symptoms. The spleen is in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen and it’s an organ that generally is about 12 centimeters in length, 10 to 12, but in patients with myeloproliferative diseases it can be enlarged. And as a result of an enlarged spleen people can have feeling like they get fuller early. So, if you’re eating a meal, all of the sudden you can only eat half of that meal versus the whole meal.  

Discomfort or pain in the left upper quadrant. Sometimes it’s much more noticeable when you like bend over to tie your shoes. And then sometimes people can actually, when the spleen gets really big, the blood flow can be impaired towards the end of it which can cause some of the spleen tissue to die, and that can be painful. So, these are things that if somebody does start to notice that they’re having fullness in the left upper quadrant, pain, stuff like that, that that may be related to spleen symptoms. 

Katherine Banwell:

What about PV or polycythemia vera, what are the symptoms? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, all of these sorts of relate to all of the myeloproliferative diseases. So, one other one that I didn’t mention, and this is actually more in PV than others, is itching. Itching can be absolutely unbearable when somebody has PV. It’s particularly noticeable after taking a shower. So, a lot of times I’ve met patients who are like I haven’t been able to take a shower in years, because it causes such a high degree of itching. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why a shower? Is it different from having a bath?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Water on the body that can cause the problem. So, if people take hot showers, it’s even worse. Although I think that people sort of react to it differently. Usually what patients end up doing is more like sponge bath type of things, rather than actually being exposed to the water. 

Taking colder showers or cooler showers can sometimes help mitigate that. But the itching, and even in the absence of a shower, people can have pretty severe itching, and that can also be one of the major side effects. 

Katherine Banwell:

Much of the time the chosen treatment for MPNs manages the symptoms of the condition. I’d like to review the different types and classes of treatment for the three MPNs. So, let’s start with essential thrombocythemia again. When is it time to treat, and what are the options available?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Right. So, with essential thrombocythemia, that’s the disease that sometimes we don’t need to treat. 

So, we basically have a risk stratification system and this risk is based on age, history of a blood clot, the presence or absence of a JAK2 mutation. So, for example, if somebody is 28, does not have a JAK2 mutation, which is again one of those driver mutations, and never had a blood clot, they actually don’t necessarily need to do anything and just be monitored.  

Somebody who is less than 60 and has a JAK2 mutation or who is greater than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, in that setting, a lot of times you can use aspirin. Now, it gets a little bit gray in terms of that over 60 without the JAK2 mutation with regards to whether at that point you really should start taking some medicine to lower the platelets. 

Now, if somebody has a JAK2 mutation, is greater than 60 or has had a blood clot, hands down they need to take medicine to lower the platelets, in addition to aspirin or whatever blood thinner they may need. So, for example, if you have a blood clot in a vein, a lot of times you need to take a blood thinner and that will be a lifelong thing. And again, we do these risk stratifications because we know there is a certain risk of clotting associated with the risk of essential thrombocythemia. 

So, for example, somebody who is less than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, never had a clot, their risk of clotting is probably very close to that of the normal population. Whereas if you’re higher risk and have a JAK2 mutation and greater than 60 or have had a history of a clot, the risk of clot is probably about 4 percent per year. So, this is something that can vary quite widely, and even though that 4 percent per year on the short-term doesn’t sound like a lot, if you take it additive over years, that’s why we generally try to be aggressive about lowering the platelets.  

In lowering the platelets, the goal is to get less than 400 and doing that can be done through several different medications. The most commonly used medications is a drug called hydroxyurea, which has been around for a number of years, and a drug called anagrelide which is probably a little less commonly used, because it has some more GI side effects and headaches associated with it. 

In some cases, especially in younger patients with this disease, we can consider using interferon, which is an injection of a cytokine, which are one of the chemicals that regulates the immune system within the body. But this interferon can actually help lower the platelets and there is a question of whether it may affect the biology of the disease as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s turn to polycythemia vera or PV, what are the different options available for treating it? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, for polycythemia vera, everyone needs to be on aspirin. 

And additionally, everyone needs to make sure to keep their blood count low, to manage their hematocrit, which is one of the measures of red blood cells. So, in men it’s generally recommended to keep below 45 and in women it’s recommended to keep below 42 percent.  Now, the studied number was 45 percent and that was a study that was done, I don’t know, it was probably about 10 plus years ago, that actually showed that by keeping the blood hematocrit less than 45 percent you reduce the risk of having negative events like cardiovascular events and heart attacks. Because women tend to run with a lower blood count than men, it’s been extrapolated that 42 percent should be the number used for women. 

Now, this can be done by phlebotomy, which essentially is bloodletting. It’s kind of like donating blood except for that the blood unfortunately can’t be donated to anybody, it has to be discarded. But the phlebotomy is one way to do that, and the reason that works is because it makes somebody iron deficient. So, whereas if this is normal, if you’re iron deficient you become anemic. If your baseline hematocrit is here, making you iron deficient brings you back to normal. So, even though we always associate iron deficiency with anemia, iron deficiency in the setting of polycythemia vera is actually kind of a treatment of sorts. 

Now, once somebody gets above 60 and 60 seems to be sort of the magic age in these diseases, once somebody gets above 60, it is recommended that cytoreductive therapy is used, which means therapy or treatment that will bring down the red count. And again, for this one, hydroxyurea is an option as well as interferon. And there is recently an approval, actually FDA approval for a newer interferon called ropeginterferon or Besremi, which can help just bring down the red blood cells but it is the first interferon that’s actually been FDA approved for this indication. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are JAK inhibitors used as well? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

They are. So, if somebody doesn’t respond well to hydroxyurea, the approval for ruxolitinib is actually for patients who have failed hydroxyurea. Although it’s something that we often consider especially in people who have a lot of symptoms. So, the itching, one of the things that can really help itching actually is Jakafi. If people have night sweats, they have weight loss, spleen related symptoms, those are the patients that will benefit from Jakafi. Additionally, if they are on hydroxyurea and can’t seem to get control of their blood count, Jakafi is a good option to help control the blood counts as well. 

Interferon is a very nice option because there’s great data that shows that you may actually be able to lower the percentage of JAK2 burden. 

So, we’d look at something called an allele burden, which is the percentage of cells that are involved – have the JAK2 mutation. Now, we don’t know whether lowering this percentage necessarily translates to long-term better survival, but I think there is enough data out there, and there is a good biologic underpinning for saying that this actually can help. But yes, Jakafi is another thing. 

And the really exciting thing is that there is a newer agent called rusfertide, which is a hepcidin mimetic, which is basically taking a protein in your body that helps metabolize iron and by making it externally and giving it to somebody that it can actually help bring down the hematocrit without having some of the other side effects we know with some of the other medications. That is currently in Phase III studies, so hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll see approval for that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great news. And finally, how is myelofibrosis treated? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, myelofibrosis is a little bit of a different animal. When you have something like essential thrombocythemia or PV, a lot of this is managing symptoms, preventing blood clots, but if you do appropriate treatment and management of these diseases you could probably live close to a normal life expectancy.  

So, I never typically pin a survival on it. With myelofibrosis, it’s a little bit different because there is a survival. Instead of saying you can live close to normal life expectancy, it backs up to saying how many years do I think you can live with this disease. Now, of course, we are horrible at predicting how many years anyone can live, so we have to take that all with a grain of salt. But we can at least sort of risk stratify people. 

And the first thing that’s really important is to figure out whether somebody is a transplant candidate or not and if, based on age, disease risk features, stuff like that, or whether we think they ever will be a transplant candidate. So, that kind of helps us sort of think about what your path moving forward is.  

Now, the current FDA-approved treatment for myelofibrosis, there are three JAK inhibitors approved, which is like Jakafi, which was the first approved one but there is also Inrebic or fedratinib and Vonjo or pacritinib and these have all been approved over the years. 

The role of JAK inhibitors and treatment of myelofibrosis is symptoms-based. So, for example, a lot of patients with myelofibrosis will have weight loss, night sweats, big spleens, really feeling fatigued and poorly and in this setting, the JAK inhibitor can be very helpful. And you don’t have to have a JAK2 mutation, a lot of times people say, well, I don’t have the JAK2 mutation so how can a JAK inhibitor help. So, the JAK inhibitor works on this pathway, which is called the JAK/STAT pathway, irrespective of mutation. 

So, if you are having symptoms and you have myelofibrosis, JAK mutation, excuse me, the JAK2 mutation does not predict who is going to have a response. And people who, regardless of which mutation you have, may actually benefit from it. 

So, the JAK inhibitors, though, are extremely effective at reducing symptom burden as well as reducing the spleen size. And we know that if a spleen is big and we can make it shrink that, that probably is a surrogate marker for living longer, and I think it’s because inflammation does a lot of wear and tear on the body. So if you can reduce the inflammation and the spleen shrinks, which generally go hand in hand, then you might help somebody live longer. It is not changing the biology of the disease, though, however, it doesn’t change the pathway and that this disease is kind of projecting ahead in terms of creating – it changes, as it goes along, may acquire new mutations or something like that which makes the disease become more serious. 

Right now, the approved therapies for it are JAK inhibitors and the Jakafi, ruxolitinib was the first one approved. Inrebic was approved several years back, or fedratinib. 

And then the most recent one that was approved is Vonjo or pacritinib and that’s a drug that is a JAK inhibitor that is actually very good for people with low platelets. The reason I bring that up is because if we think of what’s the biggest limiter of JAK inhibitors, JAK inhibitors bring down red blood cells, and they bring down platelets. So, when somebody has low platelets it’s very hard to use a JAK inhibitor, because we’re not really able to increase the dose well enough to get that inflammatory reduction because of the fact that the blood counts will drop too low. 

So, now drugs like Vonjo exist which, due to several other mechanisms associated with the drug are actually much more tolerated in somebody with low platelets. So, if you have low platelets, you can actually take the Vonjo, hopefully get the same degree of JAK inhibition to help the spleen shrink, help the symptoms get better without necessarily making the platelets substantially worse. A lot of times they do drop, it doesn’t help bring up the platelets, but it does help people tolerate more JAK inhibition, which ultimately will help with symptoms.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, one thing I also wanted to add about myelofibrosis treatment is sometimes people present, they don’t have a lot of symptoms, they don’t have a lot of spleen related problems but they have anemia or low blood counts and these can be incredibly hard to treat. 

Even with symptoms and low red blood cell count or anemia or low platelets, it can be challenging to treat because many of these medications lower that. To treat the anemia there are several things that we can do. One of the first ones is using erythropoietin, and so there are many agents, they go by the names of like Procrit or darbepoetin alfa, that actually stimulate red blood cell growth by – like we give a recombinant hormone that helps red blood cells grow. This is normally something produced by the kidney. 

So, one thing that’s important before going on one of these injections is to make sure that the kidney is not already producing enough. So, for example, if the kidney said, oh geez, I really need more red cells and is making lots of this hormone, erythropoietin, giving more of it is not going to help the system. But in people who don’t have a really high level it can be very beneficial. 

The other thing that can help with anemia, specifically, is a drug called danazol.  

It’s been around for a very long time. There are multiple presumed mechanisms of action, but one of them is that it is kind of a testosterone derivative. So, this is a medicine that can often help increase red blood cells in probably about 40 percent of people, and it’s a pill that you take twice a day. 

Another option, sometimes we use thalidomide or lenalidomide (Revlimid). These are medications that have been used quite frequently in the setting of multiple myeloma and even a little bit in myelodysplastic syndrome, so some other blood disorders.  

But in the setting of myelofibrosis, they can be helpful with anemia and sometimes are combined with prednisone or a corticosteroid. And then finally, in terms of drugs that are being tested and hopefully will be approved at some point in the future. There is a drug called momelotinib, which is another JAK inhibitor that actually has some mechanisms that may also help improve hemoglobin. 

So, this is something I’m really looking forward to and we anticipate may be approved by the end of the year. And finally, there is another drug called luspatercept (Reblozyl). Luspatercept may work in the setting where your kidneys are already producing enough erythropoietin. So, the luspatercept is an injection that you receive once every three weeks.  

It is currently FDA-approved for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome but this is something that has been shown to have some efficacy in myelofibrosis as well. So, this could be another therapeutic option for patients with myelofibrosis. 

It is also important, especially for people who have polycythemia vera myelofibrosis to make sure that your iron has been checked and B-12 has been checked, because just because you have a bone marrow disorder doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a nutrition deficit that may be able to help improve your hemoglobin somewhat. But these are important things to talk to your doctor. I do not recommend just starting to take iron or B-12, however, if you’re anemic because in many cases you are not deficient and taking too much iron can actually be damaged. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, that’s great advice.  

When would you consider a stem cell transplant? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, the stem cell transplant is based on disease risk. There is a number of ways we assess disease risk. The first two ones that were published a number of years back were the DIPSS score, which is Dynamic International Prognostic System Score, or the DIPSS Plus, which basically is the DIPSS and then you add to it a few other clinical features. This symptom score is based largely on things that we can see without even a bone marrow biopsy, so things like symptoms, age, number of white blood cells, whether somebody has anemia. And then the number of something called blasts, which is very immature white blood cells. The DIPSS Plus takes into account low platelets, need for transfusions, and chromosome abnormalities, which is the only test among that that needs to be from a bone marrow biopsy. 

Now, these were created prior to Jakafi being commercially available. So, we have to take a little bit of a grain of salt with those because of the fact that Jakafi probably has changed how long people can live with this disease. 

Now, more recently they’ve tried to account for these other molecular changes. So, when we take the genetic landscape of these diseases, we have the known driver mutations, so the JAK2 mutation which I have talked about, also calreticulin and MPL.  

These three mutations all affect that one pathway, the JAK/STAT pathway, so they all affect the pathway that drives the disease and they are known to be kind of mutually exclusive and definitely contribute to the formation of the disease.  

Some of these other mutations are called somatic mutations. They could be checked by things next generation sequencing or genetic analysis. There’s a number of different names that people use for this testing, but we look for mutations that are present and these mutations, number one, can sometimes tell us risk. So, there’s certain mutations that are high risk. Other times it can actually give us other opportunities for therapy, especially of the disease progresses. But these mutations are important to know for risk stratification. For example, if somebody has DIPSS score that is maybe not super high risk, but then they have one of these mutations, we know that that probably makes their disease a little bit more aggressive. 

And that’s when we think about transplant, is when we know that the disease probably has an average life – when somebody gets to the point in their disease where we estimate their life expectancy is around five years, recognizing that we’re not very good at this. That is the type of point when we start to think about transplant. But the timing of transplant is something that’s extremely difficult and a very personalized decision. It’s something that it’s really important to understand the disease risks, how we assess them and the caveats of these disease risk assessments as we move forward planning and timing of transplant and that’s something that is, again, a very, very important discussion to have at length with your physician. 

And I always recommend, there is quite a few of us out there who actually specialize in transplant for myelofibrosis and having discussions with somebody who really understands the biology of the myelofibrosis and important because it’s very different than a lot of the other diseases that are transplanted.   

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Well, speaking of that, patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions. Why do you think it’s important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Well, there is a lot of things. This is a disease, again, that we can direct our therapy many times towards symptoms, and so when we think about how do I direct my therapy, so how do I treat somebody, symptoms are an incredibly important part of it. And there is nothing worse than having a patient come and see me who I see every six months, because they’ve been pretty stable and they’re like, “Oh, for three months I’ve been feeling awful.” And you’re like, well, “Why didn’t you let me know, we could do something about this?” 

So, if there is something that doesn’t feel right, it’s very, very important to talk to your healthcare provider. I would much rather be bothered and handle something earlier on than miss something and really have a lot more catch-up to do afterwards. 

The other thing is symptoms may indicate a blood clotting event. We know that patients will have a higher risk of blood clotting. These are extremely important to identify early on because if they go unchecked, they can cause more damage. 

Katherine Banwell:

With many of the treatments available as pills now, patients have a role in self-administering their treatment regimen. What happens if a patient forgets to take a medication? Does it impact its effectiveness? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Generally no. I think the ones that would are certain blood thinners you really don’t want to miss and you don’t want to miss the doses on it. With drugs like Jakafi, if you miss one dose you probably won’t notice it, but if you miss multiple doses you can actually get very sick from that. So, some of these medications are really important to be consistent on. 

Now, I know this could be a challenge. I mean I don’t take very many medications and I sometimes have a hard time keeping track of what I take, so I know that this can be a difficult thing to do. So, one thing is if you really find you’re struggling with it, setting an alarm on your phone or your Apple Watch or whatever… 

Katherine Banwell:

…device. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Device you have can be a really helpful way of doing it. Also having a pill box. They make pretty amazing pill boxes these days that can account for taking drugs once a day, twice a day, three times a day. I’ve even seen them up to four times a day, although generally the most you’ll probably have to take a medicine for a myeloproliferative disease is twice a day. But those are different ways that can really help make sure you’re consistent about taking your medication. 

Katherine Banwell:

And if a patient misses a dose, do they need to call their healthcare team and let them know? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Not just for one missed dose. If like, for example, they’re run out and they say, “Oh, geez, I don’t have any and many of these drugs are specialty pharmacy,” so they need to be mailed, and you know that you’re going to be missing it for a while. Or let’s say you look at your pill bottle and go, “Oh shoot, I only have so many pills left,” it is helpful to call because a lot of times, for example, if somebody is on Jakafi and they know they’re going to run out of their pills four days before they’re going to get their next shipment in, then what I sometimes do is I lower the dose a little bit to make sure they maintain a dose throughout that time. 

But this is something you definitely want to do under the advice of a healthcare provider. You don’t want to just all of the sudden go, “Oh, well I’m going to run out so I’m just going to change my dose,” and kind of do that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, yeah. We received some audience questions prior to the program today. This one is from Jacqueline, “What can I do to minimize pruritus or itching due to PV? A typical histamine blocker like Claritin or Zyrtec has done nothing whatsoever.” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Yeah. Unfortunately, the itching of this is not as much mediated by an allergic type reaction or histamine. It’s a lot related to that microvasculature, those tiny little blood vessels. Things like avoiding hot showers, as we talked about, taking cooler showers or not even taking showers, just like cleaning yourself with a washcloth can be helpful. There are certain medications that we can use sometimes that help. 

Now, first of all, Jakafi is extremely effective for itching. Of course, it does have side effects. It’s not always approved for your disease, so for example, it’s not approved for essential thrombocythemia. But JAK inhibitors can be helpful in that setting. There are also medications like Gabapentin, which is a medicine that we use to treat peripheral neuropathy and that can actually be helpful because actually the itching, a lot of it is related to nerves not functioning right, so gabapentin can be helpful. 

And a really old-school medicine that I sometimes use, especially if the itching is most prevalent at night, is a drug called Doxepin and that’s been around for a very long time, but it can be extremely sedating and has to be used with caution, especially in patients who are older. 

Katherine Banwell:

Here is a question from Daniel. “How often should a person with PV have hematology appointments, and how often should you have blood tests?” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Well, that is something that you need to discuss with a provider, because everyone’s a little bit different. If I have somebody who I’m managing on a medication, they’ve been rock solid stable, it may be every few months that I check blood and maybe every six months that I see them.  

If I have somebody who have been particularly difficult to control and I’m sort of adjusting medications or they’re having symptoms, then I try to check blood more regularly, like on a monthly basis. But again, this is something that – I have checked blood as frequently as every two weeks, especially in somebody who has an extremely high red blood cell count that I’m trying to lower. I have checked blood as infrequently as every three months. Again, in somebody who is not undergoing treatment, say, for example, who has essential thrombocythemia, sometimes I check blood even less. So, it really is something that can vary from every two weeks to every six months. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Katie had this question. “What are the signs of progression from PV to MF or AML, both clinically and in blood tests, and when do you need a new bone marrow biopsy to check for this happening?” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, in terms of progression, there are several things that we see happen. 

I think most importantly is, let’s say you have PV, and you’ve always been on medication, and it’s been hard to control. And all of a sudden, you don’t need medication to control it anymore, or the same thing for essential thrombocythemia. You have been taking medication, and all of a sudden your platelets go down, and you don’t need to take drugs anymore. A lot of times people are like, “Oh, that means I’m fixed and I’m well,” not necessarily, you really need to make sure to talk to your healthcare provider and potentially get a bone marrow biopsy. 

Now, the other thing – sometimes the blood counts will actually drop too low, so you’ll have somebody who has PV, who has always been too high and then all of the sudden they come in, and their hemoglobin is very low, and they’re anemic, and that’s another situation where you do that. So, anytime the blood counts start to drop is concerning.  

Now, it’s a continuum, so the blood counts may drop as you’re at the point of transitioning but it doesn’t – it’s not like if your blood count is dropping you say, “Oh my God, I have myelofibrosis, I need a bone marrow transplant tomorrow.” That’s not necessarily the case. This is generally a transition type process. 

Also when the spleen starts to get enlarged. Now, the spleen can be enlarged even in the setting of just ET or just PV, so spleen enlargement does not necessarily mean you’re transforming, but it can be one of the things that we would see that would indicate that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

And then finally white blood cell count increasing can often be a sign of that. Now, in terms of progression to AML, that is generally something we’ll see in the blood. AML or acute myeloid leukemia, is indicated by the presence of blasts at greater than 20 percent. Now, many patients with myelofibrosis, in particular, but even PV and ET, may have blasts in their peripheral blood. Blasts are normal. If I did a marrow on every healthy person out there, they are going to have some blasts, because these are the first part of the development of white blood cells. So, they’re like baby white blood cells. But what the problem is, is when they start to grow too much. 

And so in the setting of myelofibrosis and even sometimes with these other diseases, the blasts will be in the peripheral blood primarily because the bone marrow is damaged and doesn’t hold them in very well. It becomes AML when it gets greater than 20 percent, so that blasts of greater than 20 percent in the peripheral blood or in the bone marrow but a lot of times we find it in the peripheral blood is where we indicate this has progressed to AML. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Blasts of greater than 10 percent are also something that we really want to pay attention to, because that would suggest that the disease is starting to become more aggressive. Now, blasts vary, so for example, I’ve had patients go up to 11 and then drop back down to 3 or 4, and then they say around 3 or 4 or 5. So, you always want to make sure to double-check because one blast count at 11 percent, whereas it’s very important to address, may not necessarily reflect that you need to change in treatment at that time. Again, these blood tests, I always tell people, do not freak out over one blood test.  

Make sure you get at least a couple of them to really confirm what you are looking at. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you, Dr. Palmer. 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 webinars.  

Dr. Palmer, was we close out this conversation I wanted to get your thoughts on where we stand with progress in helping people live longer and truly thrive with MPN. What would you like to leave the audience with? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, I think that the first thing is make sure you understand your disease. Don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion. It’s always good to make sure you talk to someone who can really explain so you feel like when you go home you understand what’s going on in your body. Make sure you understand what symptoms to look for, what things to be aware of, because a lot of times people come in and they have no idea that, oh, these symptoms are actually related to their disease. 

The other thing to make sure is that you’re very honest with your provider on how you’re feeling. A lot of times people come in and they say, “Oh, how are you feeling?” “I feel fine,” but then they start to ask very specific questions and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m really tired, my fatigue is an 8 out of 10,” or something. 

So, make sure you’re really honest with your provider. When they ask you how they’re doing, this is not a social visit, this is a visit where they need to know your symptoms, so you don’t need to say I’m fine like you normally would if you were walking down the street. 

The next thing is to always make sure to know where there’s clinical trials because we are making enormous great leaps and bounds in this field. It’s a really exciting time for myeloproliferative diseases, and there’s a number of new drugs that are being tested and coming out. So, it’s always important, if the opportunity is available and you can do it, clinical trials are a great way to get treatment. 

Plus, you are giving back, because these are things that help us learn whether something works or not. So, you’re not as much a guinea pig, you never get a sugar pill. It’s one of those things will you will always get the treatment you need and then they may add something to it or you may be in the situation where there is no treatment, so they try something. 

But clinical trials, I have to emphasize, are a great way to get therapy and really are how we know everything that we know about treatment for these diseases. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. It sounds like there’s a lot of progress and hope in the field.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Oh, absolutely. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you so much, Dr. Palmer, for joining us today.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

You are very welcome, my pleasure, and it’s always fun to do these things, so thank you for having me.   

Katherine Banwell:

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

New Developments in MPN Care

New Developments in MPN Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Does myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) care have new developments? Dr. Kristen Pettit from Rogel Cancer Center shares MPN research updates she hopes to hear about at ASCO 2022.

See More From the MPN TelemEDucation Resource Center

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Transcript:

Dr. Kristen Pettit:

Yeah, so the ASCO 2022 meeting will certainly be exciting for MPNs, I’m expecting the abstracts haven’t been selected yet as of the time we’re discussing this, so I’m not sure exactly what’s going to be discussed. But what I’m hoping to hear more about is the investigational JAK inhibitor momelotonib for patients with myelofibrosis, specifically those with anemia, I’m hoping to see more results about that.

I’m hoping to hear more about the up-front combination studies that are ongoing in myelofibrosis, so JAK inhibitors plus novel agents compared to JAK inhibitors alone as the first treatment option for patients with myelofibrosis. I’m hoping we get some interim results or updated results from some of those ongoing studies, and I’m hoping to hear more about some of the later line treatment options for patients with myelofibrosis as well.

There are a lot of exciting things going on out there, and we’ve gotten a couple of great updates over the last year, for example, at the ASH meeting in December, and I think we’ll get some more exciting updates at ASCO in May and June.

Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development

Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert and clinical researcher Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub shares excitement about the future of MPN treatment and research, including an optimistic outlook for new approvals in the coming year. 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 
 

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How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

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Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine:

I wanted to get your take on the future of MPN research and treatment. Are there new developments that you’re excited about and that make you hopeful?  

Dr. Yacoub:

Absolutely. So, again, I would like to take the last few minutes to advocate for the future. And the future can only come when doctors and patients and advocates work together to advance the science. We have few tools to treat patients and to help patients. We have a lot of unanswered questions. And the only way to answer them is by designing quality clinical trials, enrolling patients on trials, taking the risk, and trying to find new answers and new therapeutics. So, I always would like to advocate for patients to seek clinical trials whether with their doctor or whether they have to travel for it, and for doctors to consider that for their patients. That’s the only way to advance science.  

There are very important national and international studies going on right now. One of the – and first, I would like to emphasize is that we have had ruxolitinib (Jakafi) as the only therapy, or the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis for a decade now.  

Not everybody responds to it, not everybody responds to it for a long time. So, now we’re designing combination trials. So, there’s a few studies that we are trying to redefine, “Is ruxolitinib alone enough, or should we have a combination first-line therapy?” So, these are some of the more important questions being asked right now.  

And this is definitely one of the bigger moves in the field, is trying to redefine what is the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis. For polycythemia vera, we’re also exploring therapeutics that would reduce phlebotomy with things you can add to your medical care to reduce phlebotomy.  

So, that’s also going on. And it’s definitely a big leap forward for many of our patients. For ET, when we don’t have any actual drugs approved other than hydroxyurea (Hydrea) and anagrelide (Agrylin), we actually have trials with interferon going on.  

So, I would like to advocate for that. So, interferon succeeded and now approved for PV, but not yet for ET. We’re working on that. So, again, in every disease, we’re trying to design clinical trials to redefine what is the best treatment today.  

We’re also doing studies to understand the cancer. So, studies where patients donate their samples for research. These are very helpful, very important. And contributing to that always advances the science, and it’s low effort to the patients. So, if there’s a clinical trial that is offered to patients, I would strongly urge everybody to consider that favorably and contribute to science. 

That’s the only way we can help future patients and ourselves immediately, at moving the field forward.  

What Are the Signs of MPN Progression?

What Are the Signs of MPN Progression? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub, an MPN specialist, explains how essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), or myelofibrosis (MF) may progress from one disease to the next, including potential signs and symptoms of MPN progression. 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 

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What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia?

What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia?

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera?

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera?

What Are Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?

What Are Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?


Transcript:

Katherine:

We have a couple of questions from the audience. This one is from Sarah. She writes, “I’ve been living with essential thrombocythemia for three years, and have been relatively stable. Of course, I’m worried about progression to PV or MF. What is my chance of progression, and what are the signs of progression?” 

Dr. Yacoub:

That’s a very good question. And unfortunately, we’re very good at describing those numbers. Unfortunately, our tools at interfering are not as good. So, in general, patients with ET, statistically speaking, have a life expectancy that is not different from their age match peers. And Sarah’s story will be not too indifferent from her sisters and her mother, in terms of what’s going to happen to her long care and her health, provided she gets good medical care. The exception to that is that there is a transformation risk. For ET we caught around a 4 percent every 10 years in which ET will actually change into a different cancer, a higher risk cancer.   

Could be MF, could be MDS, could be acute leukemia. And that will be a much more serious diagnosis. So, it’s about 4 percent in 10 years. We do have a – or we extrapolate some of the data from other cancers. So, certain mutations are more favorable, certain mutations are more risky. And we try to forecast that but worried it’s really hard to predict that since it’s such a long journey with disease. The first symptoms or the findings, when patients start suspecting that their disease has changed, is that the pattern of symptoms that they have are different.   

They often become worse. So, they have more constitutional symptoms, more tiredness, more fevers, more night sweats, losing weight, not being able to eat a full meal, abdominal distension, the spleen gets bigger.  

So, these are some of the feelings that patients can experience that lead to this. Other objective things is when the blood tests change in a less favorable way. So, for patients with ET who always run at 800,000 platelet count, if they’re suddenly 200, and that’s in the normal range, but that’s actually not good news, because the cancer changed. And this change is not favorable. So, as the doctors run routine labs, if they see the sudden change in labs, that’s also abnormal.  

If the doctor can feel that the spleen gets bigger every time, that’s also concerning. If the patients suddenly have anemia or very high white cell count or immature white cells in the blood, that’s also a concern.  

So, that’s why it’s great or important to establish a baseline symptom burden.  A baseline spleen, a baseline bone marrow biopsy with mutation analysis, so that patients have a clear reference point to where they started, and if things change, they can always go back to that point and compare.  

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub reviews factors that determine which treatment is most appropriate for your essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), or myelofibrosis (MF). 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 

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How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

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Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development


Transcript:

Katherine:

As with most conditions, all patients are different, of course, and what might work for one person might not be appropriate for another. So, how do you choose which treatment is right for a patient?   

Dr, Yacoub:

Excellent. So, and that’s actually the heart of what we define as the art of practicing medicine and being patient-centric and focused. And patients already have their own wishes and their needs. And everything should start with having a discussion with patients on what is their priority, and what are they trying to achieve.  

And we do have to explain to them the tools we have, the interventions that can help them. But we also need to make sure they’re compatible with what they actually want and their goals in life. And sometimes what we doctors want is not exactly what the patients want. So, we always have to remind ourselves that patients are the drivers of their care. And they have the absolute right to be informed and to make informed decisions based on the options we advise them about.  

So, that is always a centerpiece of healthcare. And then patients – basically, we defined four pillars of care. We want to control their symptoms, we want to prevent complications, we want to modify the disease so it doesn’t transform, and we want our therapies not to have toxicities, not to have side effects that are worse than the disease.  

So, we bring that up to the table. And we also look at the patient. What are their symptoms? What did the disease cause them to be complications?  

What is the risk that their cancer is actually going to progress quickly to hurt their lives? And how serious is the therapy we’re recommending? And we need to make sure that there is a good match between what we’re offering and what the disease is manifesting. So, for example, for patients who have a lot of symptoms, but they have low-risk cancer that they can live with for a long time, we focus on symptoms. We focus on treatments that improve their symptoms.  

While with patients who have more serious diseases that are eminently life-threatening, we focus on an expedited path to a more aggressive therapy and a bone marrow transplant.  

And then we also try to match those therapies with the other patient’s wishes and needs and so forth. So, all these factors are important. We have more tools to try to prognosticate. So, prognosticate is the medical word that we use as forecasting.  

We like to forecast the disease or the cancer. We try to predict the patient’s future. Fortunately, we actually have good tools to prognosticate now. We have models or calculators that factor in patients’ features, their symptoms, their age, their blood counts, their bone marrow findings, and their DNA mutations. And it gives us a score, a risk score that can correlate with their life expectancy or their outcomes.  

And we use those tools to guide us. So, there’s actually a tool we use to help patients reach that decision. It’s an objective tool to decide how serious is this disease and how seriously we should tackle it. It’s very applicable for patients with myelofibrosis, more sort of the other lower-risk cancers.  

Katherine:

What about comorbidities? How do they fit into the treatment plan?  

Dr. Yacoub:

Very important.  

So, again, it also goes back to finding the balance between how serious is the disease, how serious is the treatment, and how will the patient’s general health tolerate and factor in the choices patients make accordingly. So, myeloproliferative neoplasms do happen in a broad range of ages. And we have children, minors with MPNs, and we have elderly patients with MPNs. And it’s a continuous spectrum. And each individual patient will have their own health concerns and their own health comorbidities and their own wishes. And we always have to make sure that we match our therapies, the disease seriousness, and the patient’s wishes, which is also stemming from their own other health battles, too.  

We cannot turn a blind eye to the other health issues going on. That plays a major factor as we choose to discuss bone marrow transplantation with patients. Because that’s when the medical comorbidities are often the first barrier to go through.  

Katherine:

Are there specific biomarkers that may affect prognosis or treatment?  

Dr. Yacoub:

Yes. So, and we’re glad that actually myeloproliferative neoplasms are actually the model in medical oncology on how predictors can tell us a lot more about the patient’s future about the prognosis. So, early on in MPNs, we’ve developed models, like the International Prognostic Scoring Systems in many different iterations. And more recently, the Molecular Based International Prognostic Scores.  

They factor in patient’s age, they factor in blood numbers, they factor in DNA abnormalities, they also factor in DNA mutations, including the common driver mutations JAK2 and CALR and MPL, as well as more novel mutations that we call higher risk mutations.  

So, based on these models, we use these tools to predict how the cancer will behave, and how to approach it. This advancement has been an application for our MPN patients for a while, way ahead of all other fields of oncology. So, we’re proud that we can give our patients this tool before all other doctors were able to. Yeah.   

What Are Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?

What Are Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub shares and overview of treatment options, including therapies in development, for patients living with myelofibrosis (MF).

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.

 
 

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How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

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How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine:

And since myelofibrosis is a progressive condition, I imagine it’s more difficult to manage. So, what else is available for patients with myelofibrosis?  

Dr. Yacoub:

Correct So, myelofibrosis is the higher end of this spectrum of cancers.  

It is a cancer that is associated with much higher symptom burden and impact on daily life. It is also associated with low blood counts, and some patients will require transfusions. It’s a major morbidity to our patients. And in addition, it’s a cancer that is associated with shortened life. So, patients with myelofibrosis will not live as long as their health would have allowed them. And some of them will live actually a much shorter life than they want or deserve.  

So, myelofibrosis treatment requires a lot more considerations. So, for patients who are in good health, who have a cancer that is more aggressive, that would be imminently impacting their longevity, we start a discussion about a curative role of allogeneic stem cell transplantation very early in their course.  

Because bone marrow transplantation can be curative, and those patients can live a long life after a successful transplant. So, this is a treatment modality that should be brought up very early for patients with higher risk myelofibrosis. There are approved JAK inhibitors, ruxolitinib (Jakafi) and fedratinib (Inrebic). And we know that ruxolitinib which has been approved for over 10 years can improve symptoms, can improve the spleen volume, can actually prolong lives for patients on it, and also makes the transplant more successful.  

So, we should be offering that to the appropriate patients also early in their diagnosis, in a strategy where, in addition to that, we get them to a transplant. Fedratinib is approved in that setting. And we are very optimistic that by the end of this calendar year, we will have two other JAK inhibitors approved.  

[Editor’s Note: As of February 28, 2022, pacritinib (Vonjo) has been approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis patients with severe thrombocytopenia.] 

So, we look forward to those two drugs. Momelotinib and pacritinib for patients with special disease features. And hopefully, by the end of this year, we will have a list of JAK inhibitors that we can choose from, which is great news for our patients.  

Katherine:

Oh, we’re still fighting. 

Dr. Yacoub:

Yes, absolutely.  

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera?

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub provides an overview of available treatment options for patients living with polycythemia vera (PV). 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 
 

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How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

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How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine:

You mentioned using interferons for ET. That’s something that you would also use for polycythemia vera. Yes?   

Dr. Yacoub:

Absolutely. So, the same principles will apply to polycythemia vera. We would like to treat the higher-risk patients more aggressively. Hydroxyurea (Hydrea) and interferon are also the first-line therapies in these patients.   

The good news in 2022 is that we actually finally have an FDA-approved interferon for our patients. Finally, after 50 years of using interferon, now, we have an FDA approval. So, the new interferon, ropeginterferon alfa-2b is a medication that was studied prospectively in Europe, and it has been approved and in clinical use in Europe under the brand name Besremi.  

And this year, it was approved in the U.S. for patients with polycythemia vera, which is a great achievement for the medical field and a great tool to help our patients. We have used other brands off-label in the past, but it’s glad now to get this confirmation from the FDA that this is a standard of care for all patients.  

And then beyond that, ruxolitinib or Jakafi, is also approved as a second-line option in patients who have had hydroxyurea as their first line.  

So, these are the medicines we use for polycythemia vera. We also use therapeutic phlebotomy. And the goal in high-risk polycythemia vera, or actually in all patient polycythemia vera, is to reduce their hematocrit.  

And we want it under 45 percent every day of the year. And we use the tools that we just discussed phlebotomy and medicines to achieve that, in addition to aspirin. So, that’s how PV is more unique than ET. Yes. 

Thriving with an MPN: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

Thriving with an MPN: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 MPN specialist and researcher, Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub, reviews factors that help guide care decisions for MPNs – essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF). Dr. Yaboub discusses the goals of treatment, shares tools for taking an active role in your care, and provides an update on promising new therapies for MPNs.

 
Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 
 

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The Latest in MPN Research: Updates from ASH 2021

The Latest in MPN Research from ASH 2021

Updates from ASH: How Biomarker Testing Has Changed MPN Care

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Expert Advice for Finding an MPN Clinical Trial

Expert Advice for Finding an MPN Clinical Trial


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today. Today’s program is about how to live and thrive with an MPN. We’re going to discuss MPN treatment goals, 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.

All right, let’s meet our guest. Joining me today is Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub. Welcome, Dr. Yacoub. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Hello, Katherine. And thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this very important and near and dear topic to my heart and to everything I do every day.

I’m a hematologist-oncologist at the University of Kansas. I practice hematology 100 percent of my time, and I dedicate it to patients with MPNs. I’m an active researcher through clinical trials at my own institution, as well as part of many national and international collaborations. We all strive to provide the best care and the updates for our patients. I’m also a Director of our hematology clinics in cancers at the University of Kansas, and I’m an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Kansas.

Katherine:                  

Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to join us today. We appreciate it.

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely, my pleasure.

Katherine:                  

To give our patient audience some context before we get into the specifics of MPN treatment approaches, how would you define treatment goals?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Thank you, thank you. And I always like to highlight and emphasize that unlike many of the cancer syndromes that patients deal with, myeloproliferative neoplasms are unique.

These are chronic cancers. There’s no finish line. And this is a disease you live with. It affects every day of your life, every activity of your future life. You plan your life events accordingly. Pregnancies and marriages and trips and all of that. So, this is a chronic cancer. And as we plan therapy, we always factor that in. We would like the cancer to have the least or almost no impact on your daily life.

Whether it’s symptoms, whether it’s disability and dysfunction and inability to perform your daily functions, whether it’s actual physical symptoms that you’re having from the cancer, or whether it’s affecting complications that are hurting your health. So, we would like to focus on all of these, the medical aspect as well as the impact of the disease to everyday symptoms.

This is a unique feature of these cancers. And it doesn’t really exist much in other diseases.

Katherine:                  

That’s helpful to understand as we move through today’s program. And we’re going to cover the three classic MPNs, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia, and myelofibrosis.

So, for the person who has one of these conditions, can you help us understand the treatment approaches for each? Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia or ET.

Dr. Yacoub:               

Excellent. So, I’m going to start with some general concepts. So, as we approach our patients, we would like to get a good assessment of the disease burden to their lives. These can be symptoms. So, we actually have very good objective tools to measure symptoms, such as the MPN-SAF. It’s an objective tool to calculate the symptoms. So, we would like to get an objective baseline of symptoms.

Because we do want to address the symptoms, regardless of the MPN subtype. We do want to master actually the symptoms because that is what patients feel every day and we want to affect that early in the treatment. We also would like to get a good assessment of the disease complications. Have the patient suffered a clot or a hemorrhage or symptoms because of an enlarged spleen? Or were they unable to perform certain activities? Are they able to eat? Are they losing weight?

So, we would like to see how is the cancer also causing them immediate morbidity, and we also would like to tackle the future. So, cancers tend to get worse with time. They tend to transform into a higher risk cancer. So, as we approach any of the MPN patients, we also talk about the future risk of the cancer turning into a more aggressive form of cancer.

So, we would like if we can, for every patient to focus on these three pillars of their care: their immediate quality of life and symptoms, their immediate complications, and their future disease progression.

And we would like to factor in that our treatments does not add more side effects to their lives. So, that’s the fourth pillar of how we take care of patients. So, these are the basic concepts that will apply today for all patients with all three diseases.

Some patients will have more emphasis on one or the other. But this is something in our mind as doctors who treat MPN patients, we try to balance all these three pillars for every patient. So, let’s talk about essential thrombocythemia. This is among the other MPNs, the cancer with the lowest risk. Patients with essential thrombocythemia can have clots and can have bleedings. And they also often have symptoms because of their cancer.

But they also enjoy a long life expectancy that is almost indifferent from patients who don’t have cancer provided they get good care. So, our emphasis is on focusing that their life quality is not touched by their cancer, and focusing on treating patients with symptoms, to ameliorate the symptoms and allowing them to have a decent and good quality of life. At the same time, we would like to reduce the risk of clotting and bleeding.

And we have tools and medicines that are very effective at doing that in select patients who we define as high risk. And now there is a more clear definition of that. So, high-risk patients are patients who are over age 60 and have a JAK2 mutation, or patients who have already had a clot.

That is not the majority of ET patients actually. The majority are not high risk. And those patients might not require therapy to reduce their platelet count.

But for high-risk patients, we have tools to help them. So, hydroxyurea (Hydrea) is the most commonly used medicine in this setting.

The goal of hydroxyurea is to reduce the platelet count. And we’d like to keep it under 400, sometimes under 600 under different circumstances. And that will reduce the risk of clotting and bleeding for our patients. The other option, which I also feel passionate about is interferon.

Interferons are drugs that we’ve used for decades. They’re very effective. They’re safe in the right hands.

And they do have advantages over hydroxyurea in terms of long-term safety. These are medications we can give to young patients, we can give to pregnant patients, we can give for long term without concerns of toxicity, and also they have a higher ceiling. Patients with interferon can achieve a disease control that we cannot achieve with hydroxyurea.

And this will be beneficial long term treating those patients. So, these – Yeah, and then aspirin therapy is always something we would like to include in this regimen.

Katherine:                  

I was going to ask you about that. So, aspirin is still being used as a treatment?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely. So, the standard of care is to use aspirin. Usually, one baby aspirin once a day, preferably in the morning is what we recommend. And that’s probably all the aspirin they need. We do not want them to take more than that either.

Katherine:                  

And you mentioned using interferons for ET. That’s something that you would also use for polycythemia vera. Yes?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely. So, the same principles will apply to polycythemia vera. We would like to treat the higher-risk patients more aggressively. Hydroxyurea and interferon are also the first-line therapies in these patients.

The good news in 2022 is that we actually finally have an FDA-approved interferon for our patients. Finally, after 50 years of using interferon, now, we have an FDA approval. So, the new interferon, ropeginterferon alfa-2b is a medication that was studied prospectively in Europe, and it has been approved and in clinical use in Europe under the brand name Besremi.

And this year, it was approved in the US for patients with polycythemia vera, which is a great achievement for the medical field and a great tool to help our patients. We have used other brands off-label in the past, but it’s glad now to get this confirmation from the FDA that this is a standard of care for all patients.

And then beyond that, ruxolitinib or Jakafi, is also approved as a second-line option in patients who have had hydroxyurea as their first line.

So, these are the medicines we use for polycythemia vera. We also use therapeutic phlebotomy. And the goal in high-risk polycythemia vera, or actually in all patient polycythemia vera, is to reduce their hematocrit.

And we want it under 45 percent every day of the year. And we use the tools that we just discussed phlebotomy and medicines to achieve that, in addition to aspirin. So, that’s how PV is more unique than ET. Yes.

Katherine:                  

And since myelofibrosis is a progressive condition, I imagine it’s more difficult to manage. So, what else is available for patients with myelofibrosis?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Correct So, myelofibrosis is the higher end of this spectrum of cancers.

It is a cancer that is associated with much higher symptom burden and impact on daily life. It is also associated with low blood counts, and some patients will require transfusions. It’s a major morbidity to our patients. And in addition, it’s a cancer that is associated with shortened life. So, patients with myelofibrosis will not live as long as their health would have allowed them. And some of them will live actually a much shorter life than they want or deserve.

So, myelofibrosis treatment requires a lot more considerations. So, for patients who are in good health, who have a cancer that is more aggressive, that would be imminently impacting their longevity, we start a discussion about a curative role of allogeneic stem cell transplantation very early in their course.

Because bone marrow transplantation can be curative, and those patients can live a long life after a successful transplant. So, this is a treatment modality that should be brought up very early for patients with higher risk myelofibrosis. There are approved JAK inhibitors, ruxolitinib and fedratinib (Inrebic). And we know that Ruxolitinib which has been approved for over 10 years can improve symptoms, can improve the spleen volume, can actually prolong lives for patients on it, and also makes the transplant more successful.

So, we should be offering that to the appropriate patients also early in their diagnosis, in a strategy where, in addition to that, we get them to a transplant. Fedratinib is approved in that setting. And we are very optimistic that by the end of this calendar year, we will have two other JAK inhibitors approved.

So, we look forward to those two drugs. Momelotinib and pacritinib for patients with special disease features.

[Editor’s Note: As of February 28, 2022, pacritinib (Vonjo) has been approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis patients with severe thrombocytopenia.]

And hopefully, by the end of this year, we will have a list of JAK inhibitors that we can choose from, which is great news for our patients.

Katherine:                  

Oh, we’re still fighting.

Dr. Yacoub:               

Yes, absolutely.

Katherine:                  

As with most conditions, all patients are different, of course, and what might work for one person might not be appropriate for another. So, how do you choose which treatment is right for a patient?

Dr, Yacoub:               

Excellent. So, and that’s actually the heart of what we define as the art of practicing medicine and being patient-centric and focused. And patients already have their own wishes and their needs. And everything should start with having a discussion with patients on what is their priority, and what are they trying to achieve.

And we do have to explain to them the tools we have, the interventions that can help them. But we also need to make sure they’re compatible with what they actually want and their goals in life. And sometimes what we doctors want is not exactly what the patients want. So, we always have to remind ourselves that patients are the drivers of their care. And they have the absolute right to be informed and to make informed decisions based on the options we advise them about.

So, that is always a centerpiece of healthcare. And then patients – Basically, we defined four pillars of care. We want to control their symptoms, we want to prevent complications, we want to modify the disease so it doesn’t transform, and we want our therapies not to have toxicities, not to have side effects that are worse than the disease. So, we bring that up to the table. And we also look at the patient. What is their symptoms? What did the disease cause them to be complications?

What is the risk that their cancer is actually going to progress quickly to hurt their lives? And how serious is the therapy we’re recommending? And we need to make sure that there is a good match between what we’re offering and what the disease is manifesting. So, for example, for patients who have a lot of symptoms, but they have low-risk cancer that they can live with for a long time, we focus on symptoms. We focus on treatments that improve their symptoms.

While with patients who have more serious diseases that are eminently life-threatening, we focus on an expedited path to a more aggressive therapy and a bone marrow transplant. And then we also try to match those therapies with the other patient’s wishes and needs and so forth. So, all these factors are important. We have more tools to try to prognosticate. So, prognosticate is the medical word that we use as forecasting.

We like to forecast the disease or the cancer. We try to predict the patient’s future. Fortunately, we actually have good tools to prognosticate now. We have models or calculators that factor in patients’ features, their symptoms, their age, their blood counts, their bone marrow findings, and their DNA mutations. And it gives us a score a risk score that can correlate with their life expectancy or their outcomes.

And we use those tools to guide us. So, there’s actually a tool we use to help patients reach that decision. It’s an objective tool to decide how serious is this disease and how seriously we should tackle it. It’s very applicable for patients with myelofibrosis, more sort of the other lower-risk cancers.

Katherine:                  

What about comorbidities? How do they fit into the treatment plan?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Very important.

So, again, it also goes back to finding the balance between how serious is the disease, how serious is the treatment, and how will the patient’s general health tolerate and factor in the choices patients make accordingly. So, myeloproliferative neoplasms do happen in a broad range of ages. And we have children, minors with MPNs, and we have elderly patients with MPNs. And it’s a continuous spectrum. And each individual patient will have their own health concerns and their own health comorbidities and their own wishes. And we always have to make sure that we match our therapies, the disease seriousness, and the patient’s wishes, which is also stemming from their own other health battles, too.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the other health issues going on. That plays a major factor as we choose to discuss bone marrow transplantation with patients. Because that’s when the medical comorbidities are often the first barrier to go through.

Katherine:                  

Are there specific biomarkers that may affect prognosis or treatment?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Yes. So, and we’re glad that actually myeloproliferative neoplasms are actually the model in medical oncology on how predictors can tell us a lot more about the patient’s future about the prognosis. So, early on in MPNs, we’ve developed models, like the International Prognostic Scoring Systems in many different iterations. And more recently, the Molecular Based International Prognostic Scores.

They factor in patient’s age, they factor in blood numbers, they factor in DNA abnormalities, they also factor in DNA mutations, including the common driver mutations JAK2 and CALR and MPL, as well as more novel mutations that we call higher risk mutations.

So, based on these models, we use these tools to predict how the cancer will behave, and how to approach it. This advancement has been an application for our MPN patients for a while, way ahead of all other fields of oncology. So, we’re proud that we can give our patients this tool before all other doctors were able to. Yeah.

Katherine:                  

That’s excellent. Dr. Yacoub, what is the role of the patient in their care? When does shared decision-making come into play?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely.

Patients are the drivers and the centerpiece of their health care. And patient self-advocacy is the most important tool. So, many of our patients are young and they will live with their cancers a lot longer than many cancer doctors will practice oncology. And they will have many doctors. Statistically, each MPN patient will have multiple doctors throughout their career. And they will hear different derivatives. And the science will change. And they will be given different counseling over the time. And their disease will change.

And they will have different needs as they go further. So, patients being involved in their wellbeing and their cancer care is important from the first day. And I always tell patients, “You need to start building your village from day one.” It is not just the patient, it’s your caregivers, it’s who else can help you.

Who else can advise you? You might want to also invest in a friend or a spouse or a child, to come to you and listen to some of those discussions so that they can advise you later on, “Why are you making different decisions?” So, we encourage patients to be very involved early on, to build their own village, and to seek care. We routinely ask for second opinions. We want patients to always hear the story and hear the same story from another doctor so that they hear the range of how we word the truth and how we word the facts.

And this way, they can have a better perspective. So, this is now a standard. Almost all patients should have two doctors, at least, the treating doctor and one doctor who’s an MPN specialist, who would give them another twist or another perspective to their health.

So, and that is always important. And then there are very good references and online resources for patients to tackle in, such as this seminar and other good places where patients can seek more information. They also can go to a clinical trial to find out what are the ongoing clinical trials and advancements.

There are structured patient symposiums nationally and regionally. So, and we strongly recommend that patients seek more opinions and more help and more resources and be very engaged with this disease, especially that it is a chronic cancer, and it’s not going to –

Katherine:                  

It’s not going away.

Dr. Yacoub:               

It’s just a new lifestyle. And they need to be as engaged with it as they can.

Katherine:                  

Absolutely. We have a couple of questions from the audience. This one is from Sarah. She writes, “I’ve been living with essential thrombocythemia for three years, and have been relatively stable. Of course, I’m worried about progression to PV or MF. What is my chance of progression, and what are the signs of progression?”

Dr. Yacoub:               

That’s a very good question. And unfortunately, we’re very good at describing those numbers. Unfortunately, our tools at interfering are not as good. So, in general, patients with ET, statistically speaking, have a life expectancy that is not different from their age match peers. And Sarah’s story will be not too indifferent from her sisters and her mother, in terms of what’s going to happen to her long care and her health, provided she gets good medical care. The exception to that is that there is a transformation risk. For ET we caught around a 4 percent every 10 years in which ET will actually change into a different cancer, a higher risk cancer.

Could be MF, could be MDS, could be acute leukemia. And that will be a much more serious diagnosis. So, it’s about 4 percent in 10 years. We do have a – or we extrapolate some of the data from other cancers. So, certain mutations are more favorable, certain mutations are more risky. And we try to forecast that but worried it’s really hard to predict that since it’s such a long journey with disease. The first symptoms or the findings, when patients start suspecting that their disease has changed, is that the pattern of symptoms that they have are different.

They often become worse. So, they have more constitutional symptoms, more tiredness, more fevers, more night sweats, losing weight, not being able to eat a full meal, abdominal distension, the spleen gets bigger.

So, these are some of the feelings that patients can experience that lead to this. Other objective things is when the blood tests change in a less favorable way. So, for patients with ET who always run at 800,000 platelet count, if they’re suddenly 200, and that’s in the normal range, but that’s actually not good news, because the cancer changed. And this change is not favorable. So, as the doctors run routine labs, if they see the sudden change in labs, that’s also abnormal.

If the doctor can feel that the spleen gets bigger every time, that’s also concerning. If the patients suddenly have anemia or very high white cell count or immature white cells in the blood, that’s also a concern.

So, that’s why it’s great or important to establish a baseline symptom burden.                                   

A baseline spleen, a baseline bone marrow biopsy with mutation analysis, so that patients have a clear reference point to where they started, and if things change, they can always go back to that point and compare.

Katherine:                  

Right. We have another question. This one from Victor. He says, “I was diagnosed with PV in 2018. And I’ve been treated with hydroxyurea. Recently, I’ve been very fatigued. I want to exercise, but I don’t have the energy to do much. Do you have any advice for boosting my energy?”

Dr. Yacoub:               

That is a very good question and very common question. So, the causes for fatigue in adults, in general, so many. And adding PV to that adds a few other reasons why one would be more fatigued. So, assuming that Victor follows with his doctor, and his primary care doctor has systematically went through all the possible causes for fatigue, and those were addressed.

Now that PV specific causes, A). Hydroxyurea can cause fatigue. So, maybe it’s the hydroxyurea dose. And that’s a side effect. And maybe that’s not the best medicine for him. B). Polycythemia vera can cause fatigue. Maybe we’re not controlling it enough. Maybe we need to dial up the dose of the medicine or dial down the dose of the medicine accordingly. And then there’s also the iron deficiency which we induce with PV and phlebotomy.

And whether we actually have taken Victor to become very low on iron, and that can cause fatigue. So, we have to evaluate the treatments, the disease, and the side effects of the interventions we’ve done. And those are the polycythemia vera specific factors that can add to the fatigue.

Katherine:                  

Here’s another question from the audience. This is from Sandy. She writes, are MPNs hereditary? Should my children or siblings be aware of their risk?

Dr. Yacoub:               

All right. Well, the answer to that question changed many times over the last 10 years. So, the answer changed from absolutely not, to very possibly maybe over the years. So, although we don’t think of cancers as inherited, it’s not passed from one parent to their children. But MPNs tend to run in families. And for 11 percent of patients with MPN, and that number has also increased over the years, have actually a first-degree family member with MPN. That is a big coincidence, it’s almost too high to be a coincidence. So, we are realizing that there is genetic makeup or clustering that can cause MPNs to happen more often in certain families.

So, how does this apply to patients? So, if a patient has MPN, that does not mean that their children or siblings will get MPN, it just means they’re more likely than the other people to have MPN, just because they all share the same genetic makeup. And they should be made aware. And they should maintain good health care and maintain the relationship with a primary and have routine labs and all that. But not necessarily that they will get cancer. This still is a very rare disease, and 11 percent of a rare disease still is a small number.

Katherine:                  

Thank you for answering those patient questions. I appreciate it.

Dr. Yacoub:               

My Pleasure.

Katherine:                  

And to our patients, please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org and we’ll work to get them on future programs.

So, Dr. Yacoub, as we close out our program and our conversation, I wanted to get your take on the future of MPN research and treatment. Are there new developments that you’re excited about and that make you hopeful?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely. So, again, I would like to take the last few minutes to advocate for the future. And the future can only come when doctors and patients and advocates work together to advance the science. We have few tools to treat patients and to help patients. We have a lot of unanswered questions. And the only way to answer them is by designing quality clinical trials, enrolling patients on trials, taking the risk, and trying to find new answers and new therapeutics. So, I always would like to advocate for patients to seek clinical trials whether with their doctor or whether they have to travel for it, and for doctors to consider that for their patients. That’s the only way to advance science.

There are very important national and international studies going on right now. One of the – And first, I would like to emphasize is that we have had ruxolitinib as the only therapy, or the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis for a decade now. Not everybody responds to it, not everybody responds to it for a long time. So, now we’re designing combination trials. So, there’s a few studies that are trying to redefine, “Is ruxolitinib alone enough, or should we have a combination first-line therapy?” So, these are some of the more important questions being asked right now.

And this is definitely one of the bigger moves in the field, is trying to redefine what is the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis. For polycythemia vera, we’re also exploring therapeutics that would reduce phlebotomy with things you can add to your medical care to reduce phlebotomy.

So, that’s also going on. And it’s definitely a big leap forward for many of our patients. For ET, when we don’t have any actual drugs approved other than hydroxyurea and anagrelide (Agrylin), we actually have trials with interferon going on.

So, I would like to advocate for that. So, interferon succeeded and now approved for PV, but not yet for ET. We’re working on that. So, again, in every disease, we’re trying to design clinical trials to redefine what is the best treatment today.

We’re also doing studies to understand the cancer. So, studies where patients donate their samples for research. These are very helpful, very important. And contributing to that always advances the science, and it’s low effort to the patients. So, if there’s a clinical trial that is offered to patients, I would strongly urge everybody to consider that favorably and contribute to science.

That’s the only way we can help future patients and ourselves immediately, at moving the field forward.

Katherine:                  

Seems like there’s a lot of progress in the field.

Dr. Yacoub:               

A lot of progress. I look forward to future events. I’m going to have a lot more tools to discuss. Hopefully, by this time next year, we’re going to have four JAK inhibitors, injectables for PV, interferon for ET, and a lot more things to go over.

Katherine:                  

That’s wonderful. Dr. Yacoub, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Yacoub:               

You’re welcome. And it’s my pleasure. I feel passionate about this. And I’m happy to help.

Katherine:                  

Thank you. And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about MPNs and to access tools to help you become a productive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

The Latest in MPN Research: Updates from ASH 2021

The Latest in MPN Research: Updates from ASH 2021 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist, Dr. Andrew Kuykendall, shares the latest news from the 2021 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting. Dr. Kuykendall discusses the latest findings in MPN research, including an update on JAK inhibitors, advances in BET inhibitors, as well as a new therapy in development aimed at reducing phlebotomy in patients with polycythemia vera (PV).

Dr. Andrew Kuykendall is an Assistant Member at Moffitt Cancer Center in the Department of Malignant Hematology. Dr. Kuykendall’s clinical and research efforts focus on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), MDS/MPN overlap syndromes and systemic mastocytosis (SM). Learn more about Dr. Kuykendall, here.

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Transcript

Katherine:

You’re joining us following the American Society of Hematology Meeting where cancer researchers came together to share their findings. Are there highlights from the meeting that patients should know about?

Dr. Kuykendall:

Yeah, absolutely. So, the meeting we just came from, the so-called ASH meeting, is really an annual meeting. Happens every December.

It’s really a chance for researchers to share their most exciting findings and really what they’ve been working on for the past few years, and certainly in the past year.

As a clinical researcher, I think I have always a keen interest in clinical trials that are going to give us some new data so we can see how things are working, but I think this is also a big meeting for pre-clinical studies for basic scientists who get to share what’s exciting in their labs. A lot of times that’ll give a preview of what’s to come maybe four, five years down the road what we’ll see on the clinical side. From the clinical side, which is more in my realm, there is certainly a few specific things to get excited about. Within the field of myeloproliferative neoplasms, we have polycythemia vera, ET – essential thrombocythemia, myelofibrosis.

And on the myelofibrosis side of things, I think we continue to get excited about just really the proliferation of drugs that are in late-stage clinical trials. This meeting was no different from that.

We started to get a little bit more clarity as far as this agent, pelabresib, which is a BET inhibitor which is being looked at really in a variety of different settings as a single agent in combination with ruxolitinib (Jakafi) and as an add-on to ruxolitinib as well.

This was another exciting need to get an update on where the data looks to be with pelabresib. Certainly, there’s an ongoing Phase III study in the up-front setting with that agent. We’re anxiously awaiting results too. Additionally, we’ve got more information regarding other JAK inhibitors that may be coming down the pipeline in the coming months to years with momelotinib and pacritinib.

Certainly, that’s always exciting to see the data come from there, especially when we get kind of further along in their trials, we start to get very isolated assessments of their data. Looking specifically at transfusion rates and the efficacy within the subpopulations that have unmet need. And so, I think that that’s always exciting.

I think polycythemia vera – this is a really big meeting for polycythemia vera. We obviously know that ropeginterferon (Besremi) just got FDA-approved in November.

We also started to see the updated data with rusfertide, or PTG-300, which is a hepcidin memetic that aims to reduce phlebotomy rates in patients that are requiring a ton of phlebotomies which, as we know, can be very impactful on quality of life having to get recurrent phlebotomies.

I think that those were the really big highlights, and the take-aways from this is really we are starting to see these agents move into the late-stage clinical trials.

Promising Research and Treatment Updates From an MPN Expert

Promising Research and Treatment Updates From an MPN Expert from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) expert Dr. Mark Heaney shares promising news about about treatments being studied, and how these advances may impact the future of MPN patient care.

Dr. Mark Heaney is a hematologic oncologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center of Columbia University. Learn more about Dr. Heaney, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

When it comes to MPN research and emerging treatment options, what are you excited about specifically?

Dr. Heaney:

I think that there are a lot of exciting treatments in MPNs. Now, I’ve been doing this long enough that when I started, we really didn’t have very many treatments, and I think the last few years has brought a number of very promising treatments, and I think more than that, there’s a buzz and much more interest within the physician investigator community and within pharma to develop treatments for patients with MPNs, recognizing that MPNs are still relatively rare diseases.

I think we’re on the brink of having several new treatments for myelofibrosis, and as of today, they’re investigational, but they may be available even within the next year, and that will give us more opportunities. Drugs like pacritinib and momelotinib, I think, provide effective treatment options for patients who may not be responding optimally to ruxolitinib or in whom ruxolitinib may not be the best choice because of low blood counts.

I think that drugs like ropeginterferon, which may well be approved soon, may provide another treatment for patients with polycythemia vera.

And then, beyond these drugs, which are both – which are all in late-phase investigation, there’s a plethora of drugs that appear really promising that are earlier in evaluation.

I think one of the things that’s been not really attainable with the drugs that we’ve had to date has been to really reduce the contribution of the mutant clone to blood cell production, and this is a concept that has really revolutionized the treatment of patients with another myeloproliferative disease, chronic myeloid leukemia, and we know from that disease patients who had suppression of the malignant clone have done remarkably well and now live lives that are really indistinguishable from patients who don’t have leukemia.

I think the new drugs that are in clinical development are adding to the ability of suppressing them more than clones, and so, we’re getting closer to drugs and drug combinations that may have that ability. There is, for example, a drug that’s in late-stage development, a BET inhibitor – that’s CPI-0610 – that’s now entering Phase III trials that seems to be very promising.

There are other drugs that attack other pathways, like MDM2 and the BTK pathway, that are also very promising.

And, I think they’re also – we’re also on the advent of introducing cellular therapy into myelofibrosis, so that’s another dimension of treatment, and I think all of these will present new opportunities for patients in whom ruxolitinib may not work or may not be the optimal therapy.

How to Play an Active Role in Your MPN Treatment and Care Decisions

How to Play an Active Role in Your MPN Treatment and Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can you play a role in your MPN care and treatment decisions? Engaging with your healthcare team is essential and may lead to better overall outcomes. In this program, Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju provides tips for how best to advocate for yourself or a loved one, as well as tools for making treatment and care decisions.

Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju is Director of the Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm (BPDCN) Program in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Pemmaraju, here.

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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 explore how to engage with your healthcare team when diagnosed with a myeloproliferative neoplasm, and we’ll discuss the patient’s role in care decisions.

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

All right. Let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju. Dr. Pemmaraju, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Well, thank you for having me, Katherine and team. I’m Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju. Associate Professor of Leukemia and the Director of the Rare Disease Program with Blastic Neoplastic Cell Neoplasm (BPDCN) here at MD Anderson, and I’m happy to be here with you guys.

Katherine Banwell:    

Thank you so much. We’re glad to have you with us today. As we move through this conversation, we’ll talk about the classic myeloproliferative neoplasms: essential thrombocythemia, polycythemia vera, and myelofibrosis.

But before we get into our discussion, let’s start with the question that’s on the minds of many of our audience members. We’re all hearing that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, but how effective is it for MPN patients?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Well, I believe that this is one of the most important issues of our time.

I think the way I would approach the COVID-19 question is, one, is we know that if our patients contract the virus, that can be deadly in actually many of our patients. So, I think it’s actually important to remember that the virus is still out there and that getting the virus is potentially very life-threatening, not only for the general population but for our patients.

For the vaccines, I kind of have two stories to tell you. So, one is my own anecdotal experience in the clinic where it has been surprisingly and remarkably well-tolerated in most of our patients. This is both the mRNA vaccines and as well as the J&J vaccine. And so, overall, we’ve seen a very minimal amount of allergic or other reactions.

I think the most important part, as you said at the top, is for specific medical advice, we need to be talking to our own providers. But I think for our MPN patients, we’re giving some caution, looking at the blood counts, what chemotherapy folks are on. But, in general, I’ve been happy with that rollout.

Now, for the effectiveness of them, sure. That’s a question of ongoing research. There are some data that’s coming out, particularly in CLL and other leukemias that – correct – maybe some of our immunocompromised patients, as you would expect, may not be able to mount the appropriate response. But all that data is moving and fluid, so we’ll see.

And then I think the other point here is with this question of the virus itself and maybe some of these vaccines having a signal for increased blood clots or coagulopathy.

This is something I think we have to follow in our MPN community only because our patients are already at a high risk for both bleeding and clotting. So, the virus itself, COVID-19, post-syndrome coagulopathy, possible side effects – idiosyncratic and rare, for sure, from these vaccines that can lead to a vaccine-induced thrombotic state. I think these are some of the factors that we have to watch out for. So, in general, we don’t yet know the exact answer for each patient, PV, ET, MF, how effective the vaccine may be. But we are encouraging everyone to go for it unless there’s an obvious contraindication. Katherine?

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. Good. Thank you. Let’s learn a little bit more about the disease itself. Dr. Pemmaraju, do a level set with our audience. Can you help us understand the differences between ET, PV, and MF?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Yeah, this is very important because we toss these words around as if there’s some big definition that was given, and oftentimes, that never happens. So, let’s pause to do that. So, this goes back to the 1950s when William Dameshek, who really postulated the modern MPDs at that time as they were known – myeloproliferative disorders – really thought that there were four diseases that were similar at some level and then presented differently. So, that’s polycythemia vera, essential thrombocytosis, myelofibrosis, and CML, chronic myeloid leukemia.

Then, as the modern era comes in, CML is divided off because of the Philadelphia chromosome, BCR-ABL, which is present in 100 percent of those patients.

So, now we know CML is its own thing. And now we have the big three, sort of non-Philadelphia chromosome MPNs, as they’re now known, because neoplasm – cancer – instead of disorder. Within the subtype, and this is important, the subtypes that you mentioned are the most common.

So, polycythemia vera – poly meaning many, cythemia, cells, vera is Latin for true. This is the designation for the patient who has a higher than expected blood red cell mass or hematocrit. And it actually, interestingly, Katherine, most patients with p. vera have an increase in all three of their blood lines, so the red cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit, platelets, and white count. Those patients with PV are especially at risk for both bleeding and clotting, transformation to myelofibrosis, and even transformation to acute leukemia in maybe 5 to 7 percent of patients.

So, the usual treatment there, Katherine, is to bring off the blood mass. That’s the phlebotomy.  And then in the patient who is above the age of 60 or has a prior blood clot, to give some form of chemotherapy, hydroxyurea (Hydrea) or interferon, for example.

Now, the second grouping is ET, essential thrombocytosis. Again, this word vera or essential, meaning not reactive, not benign, not from a regular cause like a surgery or a trauma or an inflammation. So, it means a cancerous cause, an autonomous cause, something that’s coming on its own.

Thrombocythemia or thrombocytosis, meaning too many platelets. So, usually, patients with ET have too many platelets as their predominant manifestation. But again, as with p. vera, patients can get into problems with that. Very, very high platelets, usually a million and a half or higher, can actually lead to bleeding. Not necessarily clotting, but extra bleeding. And then patients with any platelet levels, because the platelet level doesn’t exactly correlate, can have either bleeding or clotting. So, that’s usually the predominant factor. And again, the underlying problem with these MPNs is that they can transform to the other ones – PV, MF, even acute leukemia.

And then, finally, myelofibrosis, which we could spend the whole hour on just by itself, is the more advanced state out of these.  So, it can either arise out of the PV or ET or stand alone. And really here, this is an advanced bone marrow failure state with bone marrow scarring or fibrosis. And now, usually, most patients, their blood counts, rather than high are now low because the bone marrow is unable to produce enough cells. And then, therefore, the sequela of the disease – anemia, thrombocytopenia. So, low blood, low platelets.

Then you need transfusions. The liver and the spleen get larger because they remember how to make blood cells. People can have a wasting away appearance. And then here, more than the PV or ET, this is more of an acute disease for many where if you have intermediate to high stage, these patients can transform more readily to leukemia and have a decreased overall survival.

Katherine Banwell:    

When a person is diagnosed with an MPN, they have a whole healthcare team. Who is typically on that team?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Well, it’s interesting. Yeah, that’s evolved over time.

It used to just be patient and their local oncologist, right? And the oncologist office has become a very busy place with mostly solid tumors. So, breast, prostate, colon, and then maybe a few scattered patients in most practices with blood cancers. Obviously, blood abnormalities are common with platelets and anemia and all that, but to actually have an MPN patient in the general hem/onc practice is actually quite rare. Right? These diseases are 4 to 5 out of 100,000 people.

Now, fast-forward to the modern era. I think this is important. I think now, what I personally encourage – and obviously I’m biased because I’m here at the academic center. But I really think that patients with rare blood cancers such as MPNs should be co-managed. So, be seen by your local hematologist/oncologist, for sure. They know you the best. But also have a referral, if you’re able to and have the resources and ability to travel, to an academic center where you can see a blood cancer specialist such as me or my colleagues, as I only focus on blood cancer.

So, I’m not seeing patients with a solid tumor. So, local oncologist. If you can have a blood cancer expert as part of your care, it doesn’t have to replace the care. And then to have a member of the nursing allied professions – nursing and APP, advanced practice providers – is really becoming essential to help with acquiring the prescriptions from the specialty pharmacy, prior authorizations, teaching of the injectables, such as interferon, figuring out enrolling on clinical trials.

So – and then, if a patient, young and fit, with myelofibrosis, you’ll want to be consulted with a stem cell transplant doctor. And then, finally, as if that wasn’t enough, I think a good pharmacist team is important nowadays to go over the drug-to-drug interactions, side effects. It’s not just about the JAK inhibitors but all the other medicines – antibiotics and everything else – that may be a bit unique to the MPN patient compared to the general cancer patient.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. Lately, we’ve been hearing this term “shared decision-making,” which basically means the patients and clinicians collaborate to make healthcare decisions. And it can help patients to take a more active role in their care. So, I’d like to get your thoughts on how best to make this process work.

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

This is a passion area to me. I think this is so important that  you bring this out. I think a generation or two ago, Katherine, it may have been common for there to be more of a one-way monologue, if you will, doctor to patient, and that may have been the majority of the conversation before.

I don’t see it that way anymore, and most of my colleagues don’t either. I think it should be a dialogue, as you said. It should be a back-and-forth communication, one that learns and evolves over time as any real relationship would, right? Outside in the real world. So, I think that’s important. Number two, I think trust needs to be earned, not just given.

So, that means patient and physician, and really the physician team – so, all the other members of the team – building that trust over time through frequent communication, visits, all of this. And then, finally, I think the key here is that a lot of patients always ask, “Hey, what can I do on my own?” I’ll tell you what you can do. You can be involved and read and empower yourself if you’re able to, if you’re able to and you can. Many may not be able to due to their illness or for other reasons.

But if you are able to, I think it’s great to read online. There, I just said it. Let me repeat it to make sure everyone heard that. I want you to read. I think it’s fine. Consult Dr. Google. What’s the worst that happens? The worst that happens is you find misinformation. Well, don’t keep it to yourself. right? So, Google, look up things, go to social media, see what experts in your area are talking about, go to Facebook, go to the patient groups. But remember, everyone’s case is different. Someone else’s is different from yours, and yours is different from the next. So, gather information like a sponge.

Formulate it, synthesize it in the way that only you know how to do, bring some notes, and then talk about it with me at the next visit, “Hey, I saw this on the Internet.” “Okay, great, let’s talk about that.” Or, “Hey, this new formulation of interferon is coming.” “Great, let’s talk about it.” So, gather information, sort out signal from the noise with your healthcare team. Sort that out and then move on, move on, move on. So, I think these are some of the aspects of what’s called shared decision-making. No longer a monologue, one-way street. Let’s have a dialogue, let’s have a partnership, let’s figure out a way to empower each other in this journey.

Katherine Banwell:    

We’re going to talk in a few moments about online research and how well that works or how well it doesn’t. But let’s talk about treatment goals first for ET, PV, and MF. What are the goals of treatment from a clinical perspective?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Well, I think the goals are divided up into three factors. So, I think for the MPN patient, goal number one has to be what the patient themselves want to achieve.

Oftentimes, that’s different than what’s on the numbers with the labs and what the physician wants. So, I think a lot of our patients correctly are suffering from – or mentioning to us that they’re suffering from quality of life issues. So, fatigue is the most common manifestation of all the MPNs, followed by bone pain, night sweats, inability to concentrate, etcetera, etcetera.

So, I think quality of life is the goal of most people, and I think that’s an admirable goal. And some of the medicines can help that. Some can actually hurt that in the short term. So, let’s put that as bucket number one. What does the patient want to achieve? Usually, it’s the alleviation of fatigue, itching, bone pain, etcetera.

Number two, I think, is the sort of on-paper game, if you will, right? So, what do the labs show, what does the bone marrow biopsy show, what does the spleen show? I think all of that is good, too, in that bucket. And clearly, if someone has transfusion dependent anemia, two times a week needing blood transfusions, and whatever treatment you can do can alleviate that down to once a week, once a month never – okay, that’s a win for the patient.

And then I think, finally, our goals. You’re right. You asked me specifically “What are my goals for our patients?” Well, I want to see that your overall survival has improved if I can. So, your length of life, your quality of life has improved, minimization of side effects from whatever therapy we’re doing. If we’re going on a clinical trial or combining therapies in a novel way, that you’re not experiencing some brand new or idiosyncratic toxicity or side effect.

And then, finally, I think the key is to monitor for, let’s say, other things. Are you developing a second cancer, a second blood cancer? Are you having another problem that’s outside of your MPN, such as iron deficiency anemia or thyroid disease? Something that’s extremely common, has nothing to do with the MPN, but is also happening. And then do you have a healthcare team?

I failed to mention in your earlier question the primary care doctor, right? Let’s mention that person as well. If our patients have the general practitioner who they had already been seeing before the MPN diagnosis, or at least established one after, then some of these important aspects, like cancer screening, cholesterol checks, some of these other important things can be done in parallel to the MPN therapy and then, of course, combined at different points.

So, these are kind of my benchmarks for goals of therapy. They will vary from patient to patient and, of course, from case to case. The patient with advanced intermediate to high-risk myelofibrosis going to transplant, well, that’s markedly different from the patient who’s young with ET with no blood clots and relatively controlled blood counts. So, different goals there, Katherine.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. Right. So, you just mentioned a couple of factors that you take into consideration, but there are others as well, I think. What about the patient’s age and overall health, for instance?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Could not be more important. You’re right. I think age – and let’s use that as a surrogate for what we call ECOG performance data. So, the overall kind of fitness of a patient, as you said, may be the most important factor. And then followed by these other conditions, so-called co-morbidities. I’d like to talk about that for a second because that’s a lot of the program here. Depending on a patient’s age, performance status, fitness, and other organs that are involved, that actually leads to a couple of important points.

One, it may limit or reduce the number of treatment options that a person has based on their ability to even tolerate it in the first place. Both oral chemos that are available, some of these clinical trials that need to use an IV drug.

Number two, it may predict how your overall survival is going to be. So, perhaps your MPN, as we used in the other example, you have an earlier stage MPN that really doesn’t require treatment. It requires active observation.

But then on the other hand, you have advanced heart disease or kidney disease. That may actually do you more harm in the end. So, that’s actually very important that you bring that up.

And then, finally, right, is this concept that you have the co-morbidities and then you have the MPN, and then they kind of change and morph over time where one is the dominant issue, the other isn’t. And so, you do need that decision care team as you were mentioning earlier. So, let’s definitely say that out loud that that matters. And I think it also reminds us that nothing is in a vacuum. The MPN doesn’t exist in an isolated space, right? So, your MPN co-exists with your heart disease, your kidney disease, your lung disease, your past, your present habits, anything.

Katherine Banwell:    

Exactly.

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

So, I’m really glad you brought that up. And I think also, to your point with the shared decision-making model, I think sometimes, as physicians, we may not ask, and as patients, we forget to mention, “Oh, X, Y, Z in my history,” or “Oh, I’m taking this herbal supplement.” Sometimes these things are important to mention.

So, when in doubt, bring up everything to your care team so that you can make decisions together.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. It might help to make notes before you go in to talk to your doctor.

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Sure. Sure, absolutely. That doesn’t hurt, and it could help you at least organize your own thoughts even if you don’t use them in the visit.

Katherine Banwell:    

Exactly. Yeah. Dr. Pemmaraju, let’s talk about biomarker testing. Can you help us understand what biomarkers are and how they may affect treatments?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Yes. Biomarkers – I think that word gets mentioned a lot with really no definition, because it’s one of those words that can be whatever someone wants it to be. So, you’re right. For us, it’s a very important word in MPN. Bio meaning of life, scientific, and then marker meaning some kind of a measuring stick that has a value.

Well, there are two ways to look at biomarkers. One is the obvious, which is we have the defined big three molecular mutations. So, that’s JAK2V617F, followed by CALR mutation, followed by MPL. Those are the big three. Those make up about 90 percent of all patients with MPNs. You’re technically not born with them, although new data suggests that you may acquire these mutations right after birth. So, those markers are important, because they can be used to diagnose the disease, right? Particularly in the challenging patient. They have high platelets, you can’t tell if it’s reactive or ET. Okay, so they’re helpful with diagnosis.

Maybe some studies have shown that some of these markers can be predictive, Katherine, of blood clots. Let that research be ongoing. And then, obviously, some of these may be helpful in terms of designing the future treatments, particularly targeted therapies. So, I think biomarkers are part of our field, if you look at it that way, at diagnosis and risk stratification prognosis. But there are other factors that are starting to come out. One is there are molecular mutations outside of these big three.

So, outside of JAK2, CALR, and MPL, that are very important actually. Not everyone is checking for them. They are ASXL1 mutations, EZH2, IDH1 and 2, so on and so forth.

So, these are extended molecular markers that can be checked at some doctors’ offices that now, in the latest scoring systems, if you have one of those or more than one or two, they can elevate your risk score. So, if you have low-risk or intermediate-risk myelofibrosis, they may make you intermediate or high risk.

So, that may be a bit more complicated than what most people are aware of. But just so you know, there are markers that can be readily checked that can tell if your disease may be a bit higher risk than we though, say, 10 years ago.

I think other biomarkers that we look at are some of the labs that are just the regular labs that are on almost every panel, but they can tell a lot about the disease. There’s the LDH, lactate dehydrogenase. There are several markers, such as CRP and sed rate.

So, anyway, there are a lot of labs that we can check depending on where you are in your disease state that can kind of tell us a lot about how inflamed you are, how active your disease is at the moment, and then that will lead to further confirmatory tests. So, I think, yeah, in general, this is an active, developing area of research in our MPN field.

Katherine Banwell:    

It seems like results could really influence therapy choices then. So, do you think patients should ask for these tests specifically?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

I’m a big fan of patients being empowered to ask anything that comes to mind. And again, that’s why I love this discussion because maybe there might be some people out there who are shocked, frankly, at what we’re talking about here. I think it’s great to do what you said. Yes. I think do your research, online or otherwise. Come up with a list of questions. Bring – if you’re able to, of course – if you have the ability to, bring one person with you. Or nowadays, on the telehealth, we put one person on through the phone during the pandemic time.

And then – yeah. I mean, yeah, sure, just you hear about something, ask about it. The worst thing that your doctor says is, “Hey, that’s only a research test. That’s not available.” It doesn’t hurt to ask. And it may help to lead to other discussions. I think it’s also a good idea to get a second or a third opinion if you need to. There, I said it. It’s your body, it’s your life, it’s your choice. I think, yes, advocate for yourself, because at the end of the day, who else is going to do that?

Katherine Banwell:    

Absolutely. Dr. Pemmaraju, are there other questions that patients should consider asking about their proposed treatment plan?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

You know, I think the biggest thing that I think is getting left out in the rare blood cancers that I spend all my time in is the ability and access to clinical trials. And that’s one thing I wanted to discuss with you this morning, which is you’re seen in your local doctor’s office. They’re doing the heroic work, and I really think it is, of seeing breast cancer patients, prostate, lung, colon, PV.

It’s just the difference between the frequent, common tumors that get chapters dedicated to them in the board review testing and whole months dedicated in the oncology fellowship compared to the patient with the rare blood cancer that, really, you may only encounter once or twice in your career. As compared to, say, me, where I’m a specialist in only that area.

I think that we – look, here’s the deal. Even today, only 5 to 7 percent of all oncology patients are ever referred to – are ever enrolled on a clinical trial. Clinical trials oftentimes are seen as last resort, last ditch. And I understand that. In fact, I even thought that before I went into medical school.

Then once you get to this point where I am, you realize, wait a second, clinical trial, oftentimes, are frontline programs. Yes, sometimes they’re randomized, sometimes they’re not. Very few times does anyone get placebo, right? Which is what a lot of people are worried about. Or if they do, it’s two drugs versus one plus placebo. Anyway, so there are a lot of different things that are clinical trials.

But we realize now that oncology has so little known information still in 2021 and beyond. So the ability to enroll in a clinical trial, be referred to it, travel to it, know about it, get on it, you’re contributing so much information to not only yourself and patients in your cohort but possibly for the future. So, that’s my only plug, is I wish that we would all ask each other more about “What clinical trials are available, how do I look them up, do you recommend this for me, or can I figure out with you how to travel and do all that stuff?”

So, I think clinical trials in rare blood cancers such as MPNs are underutilized, under-referred to, under-thought of. And then even when we are able to get people there, Katherine, it’s difficult to keep people traveling, particularly vulnerable people.

Katherine Banwell:      

Yeah. We have a question from a newly diagnosed PD patient. Sharon says, “I’m just about to begin Jakafi. What can I expect?”

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Yeah, great question, right? So, with ruxolitinib or Jakafi, I think the biggest couple of points here is, for what’s known, this is the first-in-class JAK inhibitor that we have the most experience with.

So, now we have over a decade-plus of experience. I guess general things are general, right? This is not specific medical advice. That’s not the intention of this program. But, in general, I would stick with what’s on the package label insert, and there are a couple things we know.

One is this is a highly effective drug. This drug, which we have tested now in multiple, multiple, multiple different trials in myelofibrosis, polycythemia vera, now approved in a form of graft-versus-host disease, different doses. So, I would say check the dose for your particular disease and indication. Double-check it with your pharmacist. Make sure there are no drug-to-drug interactions.

Number two, I think what’s important is that some patients on this drug can experience immunosuppression. So, that means that you may be at risk for some infections, and there’s some nice literature about that.

So, check with your doctor about that, particularly reactivation of old infections, looking out for viral infections, such as herpes zoster or shingles. And then I think the other key here is to watch out for the modulation of your disease. So, a lot of folks have big spleens, Katherine. Those shrink down. Then patients get their appetite back, they’re able to eat, and so some people can have weight gain that then goes the other way. So, these are some of the things you want to watch out for.

But, in general, read the package insert. If you have the ability to, it’s worth reading the – if you can, read the paper, right? Go read the New England Journal paper or – if you can look at that. And then make sure you talk to your local pharmacist and ask the same question there. You might be surprised at some tidbits and pearls you can pick up.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. Once on therapy, how is the disease monitored, and how do you know if the treatment is working?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Yeah. So, it differs from each disease, but let’s take polycythemia vera for a good example. So, let’s suppose you have polycythemia vera. I think there are three markers here that you can check. One is the blood counts, right?

So, you want to make sure that the blood counts are controlled. New England Journal, five or six years ago now, our Italian colleagues published a very seminal paper which shows that the goal of therapy should be that the hematocrit should be below 45. So, that’s actually a very nice number to have. So, not just waiting for symptoms of the disease but keep the number low. And if you do that, that correlates with decreased cardiac events, thromboembolic events.

Number two, I think that, besides the blood count, the spleen. The spleen and liver size also is a nice surrogate for how the disease is doing. So, if that’s enlarging or getting out of control, that may be time to stop what you’re doing, reassess. The disease may be progressing to myelofibrosis, for example.

And then I think, lastly, the absence of stuff actually helps, too. So, the absence of major bleeding, the absence of blood clots, the absence of transformation to MF. I think if the quality of life is good, you’re decreasing blood clots and bleeding, you’re not going to a more advanced disease state, these are all wins for us with p. vera.

Katherine Banwell:    

You touched on this briefly, but I’m wondering when a patient should consider changing treatments.

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Yeah, changing treatments is more art than science, I would say. So, it does – that’s one of those that is kind of specific from patient to patient. In general, what we just talked about gives you that guidance. So, in polycythemia vera, since we brought that up earlier, uncontrolled blood counts despite maximum medication intervention, the phlebotomy requirement being untoward and impossible to keep up with, the spleen size growing out of control, the quality of life being impossible – these are some aspects to look into changing therapy and/or clinical trial.

But remember, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, right? So, some patients, the counts – some of these things may or may not actually play out. So, it has to be more of a gestalt, more of a total picture there.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Why is it so important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms or treatment side effects?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Well, I’m going to be that magician who you watch the TV show, they give away all the secrets. So, this is the big secret. Your doctor cannot read your mind. I hate to say that, Katherine. I just said it here, and it’s going to surprise some people. No, I mean, seriously. Right. So, I think the problem with the MPNs – not the problem, the caveat, the difficulty – is if you are a patient, you have this war that’s suffering inside of you. I know that as an expert person. You know that as a patient. But whoever you’re sitting in front of is not going to know that.

And there are two reasons for that. One is you don’t look like that. Most of our patients – whatever this is, I’m going to put this in big air quotes, so in case someone’s not watching this and they’re only hearing, I’m putting air quotes. People say to my patients, “Wow, you don’t look like a cancer patient.” Whatever that means, right? So, most of our patients don’t have their hair falling out, etcetera, etcetera. So, there’s that aspect of it, the visual education part of it.

Then there’s also the part, which is a lot of these symptoms burdens are not obvious on the physical exam. You cannot tell by talking to someone or looking at them if they have night sweats, bone pain, even itching, any of these things. Fatigue. You can’t tell if someone has fatigue most of the time unless you ask them. So, this is one of those where shared partnership in decision-making is not just a generic phrase. This is important.

I would say that for a patient with an MPN, the MPN symptom burden – the questionnaire, the 10 questions that we now have settled on – that can tell so much more or as much as the physical exam or the blood counts.

So, it’s imperative. It’s not just a luxury. It’s imperative. And if the patient themselves is unable to speak up, then if the advocate or caregiver or loved one can, if that person is available.

The other point I would say to this is that oftentimes the symptoms can precede – they can come before laboratory changes, physical exam changes, all these things. So, a constant, constant communication, “Hey, I was playing 18 holes of golf last year.”

“Now I can’t even get out of bed.” Hello? That tells you more than almost anything you can read on a piece of paper. So, you, as always, are spot-on with what you said. And this is the case where people say, “What can I do to help my care?” This is it. Speak up, speak out. It’s your body, it’s your life, make sure you feel empowered to do that.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. It’s important to have that dialogue. Dr. Pemmaraju, you’re very active on social media, and patients often share information with one another. So, what advice do you have for patients to ensure online sources are actually credible?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Wow, great question. First thing I would say is I encourage everyone to get out there, so that’s key opinion leaders, local physicians, nurses, pharmacists, patients, caregivers, everyone. But Part two is what you said is true. Most everything out there is noise. It could be garbage. It could be background. It could be misinformation. So, you do have to have some way to filter it.

I call it signal from the noise. That’s a common phrase that a lot of people on social media use. I guess three things that I would give as tips. One is don’t be afraid to read and get on there, but I would just say whatever you read, take it with a grain of salt, as you said, and just write everything down where you have it organized.

Number two, tend to gravitate towards known experts and known sources. So, for example, you mentioned that I’m on there. That’s great. Ruben Mesa, our great friend and colleague, etcetera, etcetera. So, if you know who the 10 or 15 thought leaders are on Twitter or social media, see what they’re saying directly. That’s nice, because it’s straight from them to the public.

And then three is stick with the organizations and entities that are trusted sources. New England Journal of Medicine, ASCO, ASH, programs such as yourself, etcetera, etcetera, who are trying to put out there the latest and honest information.

Okay. So, now the fourth part, though, I think is the most important, which is what we said earlier, which is whatever you look up, discuss it with your doctor and your physician team. Period. Because no matter what research you did, no matter what patients groups you join, there might be something that either doesn’t apply to you, or worse, as you said, it could be actual misinformation, and it’s a red herring.

So, maybe find information, figure out a way to filter it, cross-check it, and then bring it up to your doctor team. I think that’s a winning way for success with information nowadays.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. That’s really helpful information. Well, we have another audience question. This one is from Richard. He wants to know, what advice do you have for caregivers, and how can he be supportive during appointments?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Yeah. Richard’s question really is so important. Really, before the pandemic and now with the pandemic this extended time, this is the most important question that’s coming up. This is a challenge. I think a lot of our patients who are older, frail, live alone, they don’t even have the option to do that. That may be 25 percent of our patients right there,

And that’s very heartbreaking and difficult, and clearly, their care – it may not be compromised, but it’s certainly limited in some ways without getting that other perspective, right? So, I think that’s important.

Now, out of the 75 percent of the people who may have someone that can be a part of their life, a lot of these folks, Katherine, are limited because of the pandemic. Most hospitals, smartly, I think, still have restrictions on not allowing every single person in the building just for health and safety protocols. So, telehealth has had to be a substitute, I would say, for that, and in a lot of cases, has been helpful. In some cases, frustrating, obviously, with technical difficulties, etcetera, etcetera.

I would say that the key is – and I really want this to be very specific. It would be easy to just say, “Yep, bring a loved one to your visit.” No, it’s not that easy, right? So, now, during the pandemic, I think two things are very important and what I’ve noticed. One is, if the patient is able to, if their health allows them to, prime the loved one or caregiver, “Hey, I’m going to be in the doctor’s office from this time.”

And I always say make it like the cable person visit, right? From 8:00 to 5:00. So, “Hey, today, on Tuesday, if you can have your cell phone on you, that would be nice, because I’m going to patch you in, and you can listen in the background.” This is actually a key pearl I can give to people. You’d be surprised how helpful that is. Because most people, if they’re not living in the same household or whatever – “Oh, I didn’t even know you were going to be,” – okay.

Number two, when the loved one or caregiver is involved, which I encourage for everyone, try to discuss with them the night before, if your health allows you to, to go over some of the key questions. Say, “Hey, guess what? I only understand about 7 to 10 percent of what goes on in these visits, but I need you to ask this.” So, you can kind of prime your loved one to do that.

And then, lastly, you had mentioned earlier to have this list of questions. Well, that’s a great thing to give to the caregiver, right? So, if you’re able to use email and your family member is in California and you’re in Texas, maybe a quick email the night before.

“Hey, here’s what I’m thinking. In case I forget, will you ask this to the doctor?” A lot of these visits may only be five or 10 minutes, but you’d be surprised, if you have a list of two or three questions – boom, boom, boom – and then it’ll alleviate those worries there.

Lastly, I would also say don’t feel – I want to tell this to the viewers out there. Don’t feel pressured when you’re in the visit with us that you have to get every single thing out. And what I mean by that is now with email and the electronic medical record portal systems, there is some ability to contact people during – I’m sorry, after and between visits. So, maybe that might help you to not feel so much pressure in the visit.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Very good advice. Thank you. Before we end the program, have there been any recent developments in MPN treatment and research that make you hopeful?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

I have a lot of optimism and hope. It really blossomed over the last two years. I’m happy to report to our viewers – and this is incredible, I never would have predicted this. There are over 10, maybe 13, Phase 3 clinical trials that are in the clinic now or opening soon.

Phase 3 meaning sort of the latest – one of the latest stages of clinical trial development for new drugs. And a lot of these drugs are combinations. So, a lot of them, you’re on your ruxolitinib, for example, you’re on your JAK inhibitor, and then you add in the second agent. This is very exciting. I, myself, am leading or a part of several of these. I mean, we could have never envisioned this five years ago. So, not only these drugs have shown encouraging activity in the Phase 1 and 2 – so, the earlier stages – so, now we have to confirm and test them in larger trials. So, stay tuned for that, whether you can participate directly or at least follow along with the information.

And then the other piece of excitement is that there’s a lot of beyond JAK inhibitor drugs. So, that means novel pathways, new drugs that have nothing to do with JAK that can either stand alone by themselves or be combined. That’s another exciting area. We have multiple classes of drugs emerging from the lab into the clinic now that I hope will have a lot of benefit for our patients.

So, tons of optimism and excitement, frankly, that just wasn’t there five years ago.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s wonderful. Dr. Pemmaraju, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Thank you, Katherine. I just love the chance to spend time with you guys. I hope to do this soon one day.

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Shared Decision-Making: The Patient’s Role in Treatment Choices

Shared-Decision Making: The Patient’s Role in Treatment Choices from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is the role of the patient when it comes to treatment choices? Dr. Brady Stein details how he partners with patients in decision-making for their MPN care. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference

An Expert Shares Key Steps to Take Following an MPN Diagnosis

How Often Should You See Your MPN Doctor?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What do you feel is the patient’s role in the decision for therapy?

Dr. Stein:                   

I think it’s a really important role. I think historically – and, this is decades past; this era should be well over and behind us – this era of authoritative medicine is over.

You can’t just have a doctor walk in the room and say, “This is your treatment, this is what you should do, I’ll see you later.” It’s shared decision-making, and that can be troubling for some patients. But, the idea of shared decision-making is us explaining options informing the patient and making decisions together. That’s really the paradigm for modern contemporary medicine.

Some patients have a harder time with that. A lot of patients say, “Well, doc, this is too overwhelming for me. I just want you to decide for me.” And, we try not to do that. That’s a more uncomfortable type of visit for me when a patient is very deferential and says, “Whatever you say, I’ll do.” That’s not really what we want to hear. I want to know that you feel really informed, that you have a good understanding because each of these treatments – any treatment, any medication has its pros and cons.

There are no real magic bullets, and each upside has an equal downside, so you have to engage and open a dialogue, and what that means is that patients need to read and learn. That’s hard, but patients need to become proactive in their approach to their own illness, and all the patients who are listening now are doing that, trying to get more education about your relatively rare illness that’s going to give you a much better framework to help make decisions together.

Katherine:                  

Absolutely. If a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, do you recommend that they maybe consider a second opinion or seek a specialist?

Dr. Stein:                   

Of course, yeah. These are rare diseases, and patients often – I would say that in my clinic, a lot of the patients direct their own second opinions. Oftentimes, it’s coming from the patient more so than their doctor. I think the patient community is very active, the patients are networking, and they’re finding the right specialist to get to.

I think it should be really a team approach. It’s never – it’s usually not very convenient to go to a university unless you live really close, so you want to have someone close to home who can handle the routine, and then, someone who maybe is a little bit further away who can see you once a year, can help with the big decisions, can be part of the healthcare team. So, we generally recommend that you have someone near, and that maybe you have someone far who focuses only on MPNs as part of your team, and now, it’s a little different. Telemedicine is becoming a pretty ingrained part of medicine. It’s a little easier to have those visits with a physician who’s far away because of telemedicine.

Self-Advocacy: Advice for Being a Pro-Active MPN Patient

Self-Advocacy: Advice for Being a Pro-Active MPN Patient from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients be more pro-active in their care? Dr. Brady Stein shares advice to help patients educate themselves about the disease, while finding the right balance of knowledge to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Tools to Help You Learn More About MPN Clinical Trials

How Often Should You See Your MPN Doctor?

Which MPN Treatment is Right for You? Factors to Consider


Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s talk about patient self-advocacy now, Dr. Stein. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions.

Why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Stein:                   

I smile a little bit because patients – I get a lot of patient emails by MyChart. That’s our medical record, and it’s a secure patient email, and a lot of patients will start their message by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

And, I always say, “Why do you think that? It’s my job. Please don’t apologize for reaching out to me.” So, that’s kind of the first thing. Don’t feel like you’re bothering your doctor. There are certain things that we won’t know unless you tell us, and so, I think that’s pretty clear. When we’re in a patient room and there might be a husband and wife together, and whether it’s the husband is the patient or the wife is the patient, we might ask a question, and we might get, “No, everything is fine,” but all doctors kind of sneak over to the partner, and the partner may be saying – they’re making gestures to us. There may be nonverbal forms of communication to tell us there’s something much worse than what the patient is telling you.

So, again, “advocate” meaning you have to tell us what’s going on with you. If you’re worried about something, please don’t be stoic about it. These diseases are treated a lot based on your symptoms, and so, if you don’t tell uls about your symptoms, we won’t know.

And, in terms of advocacy, I think one of the things is that these are pretty rare diseases. In an academic center, no, this is our focus, but if you’re in a community practice where the doctor’s seeing 10-15 different things during the course of a day, it’s basically impossible to keep up with myelofibrosis, especially if you have one patient in your whole practice. I can’t do that for diseases that I see that I have only one patient. The medical literature can be overwhelming.

So, patients can quickly outpace their doctor in terms of their knowledge of these diseases, but I think it’s really important to read, to learn, and to think about the illness because you may find out things through your research that your doctor wouldn’t know are available. You may find a clinical trial, a new strategy, or a new test that they simply haven’t had the time to keep up with or learn about. So, that’s what advocacy is about. Reading is really important, but you have to find a balance. I want my patients reading, but you’ve got to find the right amount because there’s a certain amount of reading where the patients start to get overwhelmed.

All patients kind of get to this point. They take it in – like taking it in like a fire hydrant in the beginning of the disease, and it’s overwhelming, and then they start to find their balance. I think there’s a point where the reading becomes anxiety-provoking rather than ameliorating anxiety, and all patients just generally find their balance.

Is My MPN Treatment Working?

Is My MPN Treatment Working? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

During myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment, specific blood tests and diagnostic measurements help to gauge a patient’s treatment response. Dr. Brady Stein details the criteria he assesses in monitoring the efficacy of a therapy, including patient-reported outcomes.  

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

What Are the Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?

Monitoring MPNs: When is it Time to Switch Therapies?

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Once a patient has started treatment, how do you know it’s working?

Dr. Stein:                   

That’s a good question because this is a very unique area. Yes, of course, in some respects, it’s straightforward with ET or PV. If we’re starting a medication to control a blood count in hopes of having lowered the thrombosis risk, you can look objectively at blood counts.

Okay, your hematocrit is at this goal? Yes, therapy’s working. You have not had a blood clot?

Yes, therapy’s working. So, there are some objective things. In myelofibrosis, there are some objective things like measuring the spleen and seeing it reduce. You can feel that with your hands, or you can do an ultrasound. So, there are some objective parameters of success. But, in this area, patient-reported outcomes are really important, and so, a measure of success is really just asking the patient, “Do you feel like your drug is working? Do you feel better?

It’s kind of a simple question, but it’s really important, and it’s what we ask in patients who are on certain therapies. “Do you feel like the net effect of your therapy is still positive? Do you feel like it’s helping?” Seems like a straightforward type of question, but I think the answer is extremely informative. When a patient says, “Yes, definitely, my medication is still helping me,” then I know that I don’t need to change it.

MPN Treatment Choices: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In?

MPN Treatment Choices: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When considering MPN treatment approaches, clinical trials are a viable option for care. Dr. Brady Stein discusses clinical trials and factors to keep in mind when considering participation.

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Tools to Help You Learn More About MPN Clinical Trials

Promising ET, PV & Myelofibrosis Therapies in Development 

What Are the Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?


Transcript:

Dr. Stein:                   

Clinical trials are always a treatment – always an option for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms because while we have some standards, we can definitely improve upon those standards for certain. So, clinical trials are always a therapeutic option. I think the one thing is that it may not – it’s not always the most convenient option, but it could be a really important option if available to you.

So, clinical trials basically offer something new or novel that would not otherwise be available to other patients. So, ruxolitinib (Jakafi) was approved around 2011, but the first clinical trials were in 2007, so that’s the example I give to a patient about the benefit of a clinical trial.The patient can get access to a drug that’s effective perhaps three to four years before it’s commercially available.

That’s really the biggest advantage, is you can get early access to something that could really help you. The downsides are that clinical trials are not usually as convenient as regular care, there are often more visits, and there are a lot of unknowns – unknowns about whether it will work. Some side effects are known and expected; there are others that are unknown. So, it’s a lot to think about, but I think it’s always important to consider, especially if your first-line therapy has not been effective, if it’s losing its touch, it’s a good thing to think about for a second line.

Katherine:                  

Are there emerging approaches for treating MPNs that patients should know about?

Dr. Stein:                   

Yeah, absolutely. I think the first question – I think patients are often worried that they have a really rare disease, and why would anyone do research in this area, and that’s – the research community is extremely engaged, the productivity is pretty impressive, and there’s a lot of clinical trials in the space, and I think what I try to explain is pharmaceutical companies aren’t just targeting the most common diseases.

They have interests in rare diseases, and findings in rare diseases can be extrapolated to other diseases that you might think are unrelated, but they can share features, so when you find something working in one space, it can have broad applicability. So, there’s an abundance of research in myeloproliferative neoplasms which are emerging?

In PV, I think there’s quite a possibility that there’ll be a drug approval in 2021, a novel type of interferon called ropeginterferon

That is a drug that’s approved abroad; it’s approved in Europe, and I believe it’s approved in Taiwan, and the FDA is looking at it now. So, it’s a possibility that there’ll be a future option for patients with polycythemia vera. So, yes, it’s research now, but it could be available, and so, that’s the drug that I’m starting to talk more and more about for patients with PV.

In myelofibrosis, you have two JAK inhibitors that are approved, ruxolitinib and fedratinib, you have two others in clinical testing, momelotinib and pacritinib, and then you have a whole other class of what we call non-JAK2 type of therapies targeting the vast array of pathway abnormalities in myelofibrosis.

So, there are a number of different clinical trial options, especially in myelofibrosis. I think that’s the disease area where there are the most clinical trials.