Tag Archive for: NPM1

What AML Mutations Are Associated With Adverse Outcomes?

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

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

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

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Transcript: 

Art:

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

Dr. Naval Daver:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Different AML Subtypes Are More Prevalent in Certain Demographics?

What Different AML Subtypes Are More Prevalent in Certain Demographics? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are some acute myeloid leukemia (AML) subtypes more common in some demographic groups? Dr. Naval Daver from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center discusses different forms of AML. Learn about the extent of knowledge about AML subtype demographics.

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Daver: “Patients, when they transformed what we call secondary AML or MDS, seemed to have a higher predilection for certain high-risk communications such as TP53, and these are best treated with ongoing frontline clinical trials at large academic centers.

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Transcript: 

Art:

Dr. Daver, what are the different subtypes of AML, are various subtypes more prevalent in certain demographics?

Dr. Naval Daver:

The main way we have classified AML has actually been changing, so when we talk about subtypes  there are actually two different classification systems like WHO and the ICC or ELM classification system. Traditionally, we have been using the ELM for prognostic classification of AML, this divides patients into three major buckets, what we call a favorable intermediate and adverse, and these are based on the underlying chromosome cytogenetics abnormalities and molecular or next-generation sequencing profile of the patients.

In general, in AML there has actually been limited data and publications regarding the demographic distribution, whether it’s regional or racial or cultural, one of the things that we do know, for example, in acute lymphoblastic leukemia is that in the Hispanic population, there seems to be higher frequency of things like FLT3-positive ALL. 

But in the AML population, there actually does not seem to be, at least based on published data, huge differences in the molecular or cytogenetic presentation. We have seen some data from different countries that there may be a difference in the prevalence of communications across different regions. For example, in Japan, we do see that the incidence of FLT3 and NPM1 appears to be lower than what has been reported in the United States.

Also, we see in Europe and United States, the incidence of these mutations with FLT3, NPM1 is similar, and then we are seeing in some of the larger academic centers in the U.S., there is an enrichment of referral of patients with TP53, which is very adverse and most difficult to treat mutation, and a lot of that we think is because patients with solid tumors and with other hematological malignancies are surviving longer with the CAR-T therapies, immunotherapies, and because it is over time, they have a risk of developing second AML, which is enriched for TP53 mutation, so we do see over the last two decades that from TP53, which used to be about 5 percent to 10 percent, is now up to 20 percent to 25 percent of AML and growing in proportion because it’s better survival and solid tumors and lymphomas.  

The activation tip related to this question is that in general, they don’t review discrepancies based on geography and race, and region in the molecular cytogenetics. However, we do see differences in patients who have received prior chemotherapy, radiation therapy, AML therapy for other solid tumors and lymphoma.

These patients, when they transformed what we call secondary AML or MDS, seemed to have a higher predilection for certain high-risk communications such as TP53, and these are best treated with ongoing frontline clinical trials at large academic centers. 

Disease Monitoring: Is My AML Treatment Working?

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

How often would a patient need to have a biopsy? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

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

How Do Gene Mutations Affect AML Treatment Choices?

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Why is identification of genetic markers essential before choosing treatment?  

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

Does every patient get this standard testing? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

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

What Are Current and Emerging AML Treatment Approaches?

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

Where do clinical trials fit in to all of this? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Eytan Stein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:  

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

Thank you for having me.  

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. What is consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

 Katherine Banwell:

Does every patient get this standard testing? 

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

How often would a patient need to have a biopsy?  

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

Yes, always call. Always call.  

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Stein:

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

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

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

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

See More From INSIST! AML


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

Factors to Consider When Choosing an AML Treatment

Understanding Key Tests That Affect AML Treatment Choices


Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

Well, how do targeted therapies work?

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

Factors to Consider When Choosing an AML Treatment

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

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

Understanding Personalized Medicine for AML

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into an AML Treatment Plan?

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Wang:

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

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

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

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

AML Research and Emerging Treatment Options: An Expert’s Perspective

AML Research and Emerging Treatment Options: An Expert’s Perspective from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Eunice Wang shares exciting advances in the field of AML research, particularly in targeted therapies related to the TP53 and NPM1 mutations. 

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What specifically are you excited about in terms of AML research and emerging treatment options?

Dr. Wang:

I am really excited about the advent of newer targeted therapies. Right now, we only have targeted therapies for probably about three mutations out of the many, many mutations that we know exist in AML. So, we know that there certainly are patients that have specific mutations, such as TP53 mutations, or patients who have very complicated series of DNA damage, that just don’t do well with any of our therapies.

I’m looking forward to another bunch of targeted therapies – these inhibitors called menin inhibitors – that might be useful for treating patients that have mutations in NPM1 gene or other chromosome abnormalities.

I’m also really looking forward to us being able to finally unleash the power of the immune system for treatment of AML with a few novel agents coming down the pike which have, for the first time, started to show that immune modulation can work in AML patients.

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

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Wang:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Wang:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Wang:

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

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

Katherine:

What is biomarker testing?

Dr. Wang:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

What is a genetic mutation?

Dr. Wang:

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

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

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

Katherine:

How do biomarkers affect AML treatment choices?

Dr. Wang:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Expert Advice for AML Patients When Making Treatment Choices

Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Finally, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. All right, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Ellen Ritchie. Dr. Ritchie, would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

Katherine:

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

 Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

Well, how do targeted therapies work? 

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Ritchie:

Thank you for having me. 

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners.  

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

Treatment Approaches in AML: Key Testing for Personalized Care

When it comes to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), genetic testing (or biomarker testing) is essential in helping to determine the best treatment approach for YOU. In this program, AML expert, Dr. Naval Daver reviews key decision-making factors, current AML treatments and emerging research for patients with AML.

About the Guest:
Dr. Naval Daver is an Associate Professor in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. More about Dr. Daver: https://faculty.mdanderson.org/profiles/naval_daver.html