Tag Archive for: relapsed

Accessing Myeloma CAR T-Cell Therapy Clinical Trials

Accessing Myeloma CAR T-Cell Therapy Clinical Trials from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How has CAR T-cell therapy changed the landscape of myeloma care? Dr. Brandon Blue shares how this therapy has been a “game changer” in myeloma care, and how clinical trials for newer CAR T-cell therapies are advancing care and access for patients.

Dr. Brandon Blue is Assistant Member and Clinical Instructor in the Department of Malignant Hematology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. Learn more about Dr. Brandon Blue.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Blue, we know that the approved CAR T-cell therapies are for patients who have already undergone several lines of treatment. How has this therapy revolutionized care for myeloma patients?  

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Yeah. So, CAR T is really a game changer when it comes to multiple myeloma. I’ll tell you that previously people have seen a lot of the best medicines that we have, and unfortunately for a good percentage of people the disease just becomes what we call refractory.  

And unfortunately, despite us giving them the best medicines, the disease still likes to survive. So, we had to think of something of what can still kill cancer, but may not be the traditional chemotherapy that people may think of? So, we say, “Well, let’s come up with CAR T because it’s a way to actually use the body’s own immune system to fight off those cancer cells.” And for myeloma it really has shown a lot of progress. And one of the things that we know now is that not only do we have one, but we have two products, and maybe even a third coming down the pipeline because there’s more and more of this CAR T becoming available. 

And that’s better, and better for patients.  

Katherine Banwell:

Absolutely. That’s great news. For patients who are recently diagnosed, Dr. Blue, is there any chance of accessing this treatment sooner? Maybe through clinical trials. 

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Yeah. One of the biggest clinical trials that I think that people are excited about is trying to challenge something that we’ve been doing since the 1980s, which is stem cell transplant.  

So, typically, when a person get diagnosed with multiple myeloma, especially newly diagnosed, stem cell transplant is typically part of the treatment plan. But now there’s clinical trials that are coming out where we challenge instead of maybe a patient going to stem cell transplant, maybe they might do CAR T instead. And we’re trying to figure out can something that we’ve been doing since the ‘80s be un-throned as the best standard practice? And so, I think that’s something that people are really excited about, that’s something I’m excited about. 

And it gives people who are newly diagnosed a chance to get some of this novel therapy.   

Katherine Banwell:

I have a follow-up question about the clinical trials, you mentioned that there is one going on. Where is it taking place?  

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Yeah. So, it’s actually a multi-center study. And so, hopefully, we hope to have Moffit Cancer Center involved in that clinical trial, but it’s multiple different sites really all over the world because I think this is a question that everybody’s really excited about. Again, like I said, transplant has been happening since 1980s, and so for some treatment to come along to potentially challenge that, I think people are excited about a new contender. And we’ve already seen the progress that CAR T has already made. 

And so, the big question is how well will it work when someone is newly diagnosed before their body has really seen all the extra treatments that are there? Will it work even better?  

We’re very hopeful, and we’re very optimistic. 

Katherine Banwell:

Where can people find out about this particular clinical trial and other clinical trials?  

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Yeah. So, I tell people there’s so many different websites and resources. One of the main ones that is very readily accessible is clinicaltrials.gov, is very kind of easy, and intuitive. Typically, what you can do at clinicaltrials.gov is you can literally kind of just type in your disease process, and then they’ll tell you if it’s newly diagnosed, or relapsed. There’s also a place called SparkCures. SparkCures is fantastic organization that really tries to focus people, and get them matched with clinical trials, which is fantastic.  

There’s also HealthTree. HealthTree not only helps people from a clinical trial standpoint, but they also have patient support programs because nobody wants to be in the fight for cancer by themselves. The American Cancer Society does a fantastic job, as well as Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 

The International Myeloma Foundation, or the IMF, and then the MMRF, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. And there’s many more, but those are some of the top ones that we readily use that have a lot of information. And some of them have not only information for the patient, but also information for the family, and the caregivers. Because again, when someone gets diagnosed with cancer it doesn’t just affect the person, it affects the whole family.  

How Are Myeloma Patients in Remission Monitored?

How Are Myeloma Patients in Remission Monitored? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How often should testing be administered when myeloma is in remission? Dr. Brandon Blue discusses how patients in remission are monitored and when a bone marrow biopsy may be required.

Dr. Brandon Blue is Assistant Member and Clinical Instructor in the Department of Malignant Hematology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. Learn more about Dr. Brandon Blue.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Blue, how often should bone marrow biopsy be performed in the years following a stem cell transplant?  

Dr. Brandon Blue:

So, typically following stem cell transplant patients are kind of switched to what we call maintenance therapy.  

Meaning that the disease is typically under control after transplant, and our job right now is to kind of put the lid on the disease and keep that lid on so that the disease doesn’t kind of bubble over. And likely, people are on that maintenance therapy for three, four, sometimes even five years, or more. And so, sometimes when the disease is very stagnant or very stable, and people are on maintenance therapy, there may not be a need for multiple repeated bone marrow biopsies. 

Because the disease may just be in a kind of dormant or remission stage. However, at the first sign that we see that things are changing, we see that unfortunately the disease may be starting to relapse, or maybe even there’s a new pain, or things happening that just need further investigation, I think a bone marrow biopsy would be very warranted at that time.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. So, when patients are in a kind of remission stage you just monitor them. Do you continue to do bloodwork, and test their urine, and so on?  

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Blood, urine, imaging. Blood, urine imaging. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Blood, urine, imaging.   

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Yup. Those would be the best ways to follow it. Of course, the gold standard would be a bone marrow biopsy, but typically what happens is that the blood, the urine, and the imaging typically reflect what’s happening in the bone marrow. It’d be sometimes very unlikely for a patient’s bloodwork to be normal, but then the bone marrow to be ridden with cancer. Typically, it doesn’t work that way. There are some unique circumstances where bone marrow biopsies are needed in people who have something called non-secretory myeloma, but that’s a very small percentage. 

What Testing Is Appropriate for People With Smoldering Myeloma?

What Testing Is Appropriate for People With Smoldering Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is smoldering myeloma monitored? Myeloma expert Dr. Brandon Blue explains why treatment is not necessary and the types of tests that are used to monitor this diagnosis.

Dr. Brandon Blue is Assistant Member and Clinical Instructor in the Department of Malignant Hematology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. Learn more about Dr. Brandon Blue.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What testing and treatments are appropriate for smoldering myeloma? And first, could you define smoldering myeloma for us?  

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Yeah. So, one of the things that makes multiple myeloma kind of a very difficult disease is that it can attack people’s bones.  

When people have the smoldering myeloma, they have none of those bone disease. When people typically have multiple myeloma it can affect their kidneys, and actually cause low blood counts called anemia.  

When people have smoldering, they don’t have any of those classic features, however, they still may have a burden of cancer cells. Anywhere from 10 to 59 percent of plasma cells is really still considered this smoldering, or inactive cancer, but it’s still cancer. And so, we know that roughly in the first five years about 10 percent of those patients will go from this inactive smoldering stage to the active myeloma and required treatment. 

A lot of times we do observation for those patients to kind of make sure that they get the treatment when they need it. There is some studies to show that some people do get treatment during the smoldering stage, but for a lot of times observation is needing because sometimes it can be several years really before someone would need treatment. 

And a lot of times we try not to expose people to treatment if it’s really not necessary at the time.  

Katherine Banwell:

I see. So, it’s more of a watch and wait. 

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Exactly right. And sometimes you actually watch and wait, and then you keep watching, and waiting, and sometimes people never develop the active disease. And so, especially in those patients, you would’ve exposed them to chemotherapy that they really never needed. And one thing that I always tell my patients is that it’s important to know that you have cancer cells, but it’s also important for us to follow it. We are here to help and support you, right? And having cancer in your body sometimes can be very anxiety-provoking. 

And so, for a lot of patients who are in that category, sometimes we offer them clinical trials that we have available to say, “Hey, this is something that we’re trying to explore and learn more about smoldering myeloma. And maybe this is something that may benefit you.” 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Can a patient with smoldering myeloma be monitored through blood work? Is that something you would do?  

Dr. Brandon Blue:

Yeah. So, typically what we try to do because the disease is so multifaceted, meaning that myeloma is not the same for each person. So, the blood is a fantastic way of following the disease, and monitoring, however, we need to do a little bit more than that. We also like to collect urine because, again, multiple myeloma can affect people’s kidneys. And the good thing about urine is that we flush it down the toilet all the time, but there’s so much information that gets flushed down that we really can learn about the disease and learn about the person by following the urine over time. 

The next thing is that we can follow imaging because, again, multiple myeloma can affect people’s bones. Sometimes if you get aches, and pains, we don’t know if that’s the muscle, we don’t know if that’s a ligament, we don’t know if that’s the bone. Pain is such a subjective thing, so we need to follow people, and have them be monitored with imaging. So, I think that combination of blood, urine, and imaging would be the best thing to do. 

Accessing Personalized Myeloma Treatment | What Patients Should Know

Accessing Personalized Myeloma Treatment | What Patients Should Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma experts Dr. Francesca Cottini and Dr. Ashley Rosko provide an overview of the latest advances in essential testing for myeloma and explain how results could affect care and treatment decisions. Drs. Cottini and Rosko also review available myeloma therapies and their hopes for the future of patient care.

Dr. Francesca Cottini is Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematology at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Cottini.

Dr. Ashley Rosko is Medical Director of the Oncogeriatric Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Rosko.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss how to access personalized care for your myeloma and why it’s vital to insist on essential testing.  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. Let’s meet our guests for today. I’ll start with Dr. Ashley Rosko. Dr. Rosko, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Rosko:

Hi everyone. My name is Ashley Rosko. I’m an associate professor at the division of hematology at The Ohio State University. 

I’m also the medical director of the oncogeriatric program here at The James and one of the myeloma physicians here at Ohio State. 

Katherine:

Thank you. Also with us is Dr. Francesca Cottini. Dr. Cottini, would you please introduce yourself to the audience? 

Dr. Cottini:

Sure. My name is Francesca Cottini. I am an assistant professor in the divisions of hematology at The Ohio State University. I see patients with multiple myeloma, and I also run my own lab where I focus on multiple myeloma basic research. 

Katherine:

Thank you both for taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us today.  

It’s no secret that it’s important for patients to take an active role in their care and treatment decisions, and I’m sure many viewers here today are doing just that. So, Dr. Rosko, let’s start with this question: Why do you think it’s essential that patients advocate for themselves and insist on better care?  

Dr. Rosko:

Yeah, so I think when it comes to uncommon diseases like multiple myeloma –  

Although we’re talking a lot about it here today, myeloma is an uncommon cancer, and when it comes to rare cancers, it’s really important for you to get care at either a comprehensive cancer center or a place where there is expertise specifically in multiple myeloma. 

And the reason why that’s so important, it’s recommended through the NCCN guidelines and other standing guidelines is because myeloma is a very – it’s a shifting and changing landscape when it comes to both treatment regimens, diagnosis, and there’s a lot of moving parts and pieces.

Such as, there is an uncommon cancer that when diagnosed, we do recommend that patients and with their caregivers and with their families and support be able to seek expertise care for these uncommon cancers. We work often in collaboration with our community team, but we would not be able to care for myeloma if it were not for our community partners. 

And so, it’s really, really important for patients oftentimes, when there’s been such a diagnosis, they can come to a comprehensive cancer center for a consultation or to be able to get a second opinion oftentimes. And then continue to get care locally. It really provides this overall guidance on the management and diagnosis of uncommon plasma cell disorders, and we’re happy to do that. 

Katherine:

Thank you for that. It’s helpful as we begin our discussion. Part of accessing more personalized care starts with test results. Dr. Cottini, what testing should take place following a myeloma diagnosis?  

Dr. Cottini:

So, once somebody is diagnosed with multiple myeloma, there are different types of tests that we need to get. Some are blood tests, some are urine tests, some are bone marrow tests, and others are just different types of imaging. So, the reason for all these tests is because multiple myeloma can kind of go everywhere and can cause the damage to different types of organs. 

So, if we look at blood tests, usually you would see that you get the complete blood count, so we can count the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. And then we’ll look at kidney function, through a chemistry profile, calcium levels, multiple myeloma can affect bone cells can affect kidneys. And then, you will see some more sophisticated tests that are really important for the diagnosis of multiple myeloma but also for monitoring and seeing if you’re actually responding to the treatment or you are progressing. 

These two tests that you can see are kind of difficult to say, but very important and needs to be remembered. So, one is called serum protein electrophoresis with immunofixation. And the other one is free light chain assays. 

And the practicum with these two tests is we can identify the specific marker of the multiple myeloma cells and it is either something monoclonal protein or M-protein or kappa light chain numbers. And as I said before, these numbers can be monitored. So, in response to the treatment, they should go down. And then, unfortunately, if we see progression, they might go up again. 

And then, urine tests can also give the same type of numbers. Usually, we have our patient keep the urine for 24 hours, for a day, and we can see if there’s monoclonal proteins or light chains there, too. Then there is a least favorite test of all of them that is the bone marrow testing. So, this is very important for us, because it’s where most of the myeloma cells stay. So, we need to have a look at the bone marrow.  

We need like a piece of the bone and some of the liquid tissue to look at specific characteristics of the myeloma. And then, I said before, the myeloma can go to bones, so we need to kind of get some imaging of the bones. These are usually a set of X-rays – it’s called skeletal survey – to see if there is any area that is abnormal or at risk of fractures.   

Then, we are also looking at PET scan, which is a more sophisticated test that is based on sugar consumption. We know that myeloma cells and all cancers enjoy sugar, so with the PET scan, we can see visually where the myeloma cells are in the body.

Katherine:

What is cytogenetics? 

Dr. Cottini:

So, this is a really interesting question. So, cytogenetics, or FISH tests, are tests that practical tests allow us to look at the chromosomes of the multiple myeloma. 

So, everybody has 46 chromosomes, right? Multiple myeloma cells can have more of them or less of them. So, they can have – some myeloma cells have 17 chromosomes instead of 46. So, cytogenetics in the karyotype counts how many chromosomes there are. And then, there is another type of test that is called FISH test, or fluorescence in situ hybridization – I get all the difficult names – that practically look at specific area of chromosome. It can tell us if some areas of chromosomes are lost. That’s what you can read as deletions, or practically missing pieces of chromosomes.  

Or there are extra pieces of chromosomes. These are the amplification gains. Or if there are different pieces of chromosomes that stick together. And these are the translocational chromosomes. And all of these data are important for deciding for knowing how aggressive or difficult to treat the myeloma. 

Katherine:

Dr. Rosko, in many other cancers, we’ve been hearing about targeted therapies and immunotherapies. In some cases, a specific mutation or chromosomal abnormality may indicate that a particular treatment may be effective. Are we there yet in multiple myeloma care? 

Dr. Rosko:

Yeah, so, myeloma care is always a little bit different. So, myeloma, being a blood cancer, is different than other solid tumors and how we treat it is also a bit different. So, unlike solid tumors, in which we look at the size of a cancer and then if it’s in different places in the body. In multiple myeloma, it being a blood cancer, just by definition it’s throughout the body. So, we have to be able to estimate or stage cancers differently or stage myeloma differently. And it is based upon the cytogenetics that Dr. Cottini just outlined to you.  

So, to get back to your question, Katherine, I didn’t forget about, how do we define treatment, how are some of these therapies being defined specifically and personalized for persons with multiple myeloma? And we do do that. And it is based a lot upon the DNA of those cancer cells and whether or not they’ve acquired what I would call a standard-risk changes or whether or not they’ve acquired a biology that makes them tend to act more aggressively. Now, again, these DNA differences – not all cancers follow the book, and not all therapies are unique to these. 

But what it does help us to do as clinicians to say, “Well, we have standard risk mutations within these cancer cells, and then we can define oftentimes how many drugs a patient gets when they’re newly diagnosed. Just like many other cancers, our treatments for multiple myeloma can be a combination of pills or shots. And then, if patients carry mutations that tend to act more aggressively, we tend to be very aggressive with their upfront therapy. For many patients, we’d receive three medications. Patients with more aggressive disease biology may receive four medications. 

And it’s very unique upon many characteristics. It’s not only based upon the cancer cells’ DNA but also the health of the patient. The health of the patient really defines also the ability to tolerate treatment. So, many patients are – myeloma has a lot of heterogeneity to it, where some patients with myeloma can’t believe that they could possibly have this cancer. 

You know, it’s really kind of picked up subtly, with blood abnormalities. And then some patients with myeloma come into the hospital very very sick, with having kidney damage or having infection. And it runs the gambit between being asymptomatic really and having patients coming in quite unwell. That also influences our treatment decisions. So, when we think about the question about whether we have different immunotherapies or targeted therapies based upon the genetic changes within the myeloma cancer cells, the answer is yes, we do shape therapy that’s tailored around the type of abnormalities within the cancer cells. 

But unlike some cancers, where if the cancer cells carry a specific marker, we give a specific drug, that’s not quite where we’re at with multiple myeloma, in terms that providing therapy is saying, “If you carry this mutation, this is what you should get.” 

So, it’s a very long answer to say to you that we do personalize therapy based upon changes within the DNA, but we also base it upon how fit the patient is and how their health was prior to developing cancer. 

Katherine:

Thank you for that. Dr. Cottini, what mutations or abnormalities are you looking for? 

Dr. Cottini:

So, as Dr. Rosko said, and as I quickly previously mentioned, so there are different types of DNA tests that we can do. One is this FISH test, and that’s a standard test. It’s usually done practically everywhere. And it practically tells us if there are specific deletions or changes. 

And we don’t really have yet a specific medication that we know works for specific abnormalities. But all this information is important to decide, as Dr. Rosko said, number of drugs, and maybe that can be helpful in the future when hopefully thanks to the research, we will be able to say, “Based on this abnormality, you would benefit more from this type of treatment.”  

There are other types of tests. One is called DNA testing, so we look at the mutation. So, really to point to small changes of a particular gene. This is done not routinely, but I think it can still give lots of good information. And there are lots of genes that are normally myeloma, that has potential drugs that have been studied, those with multiple myeloma and any other type of cancer. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Dr. Rosko, what do the results of these tests tell you about prognosis? 

Dr. Rosko:

Yeah, I think this is a really important question. And, in my experience, when we encounter a patient newly diagnosed with myeloma, it is like drinking from a firehose in terms of the amount of information that we are reviewing and the amount of information that we are discussing with the patient and with their family. And oftentimes, we talk about this piece of these cytogenetic abnormalities, and we talk about – but I really encourage your patients and anyone who is listening in today to really take a deeper dive. 

Because sometimes it’s helpful as, one, you’re navigating a new cancer diagnosis, but that’s challenging in and of itself. And then, two, talking about a cancer, multiple myeloma, that is – most people don’t know so much about multiple myeloma, unlike breast or colon or lung cancer, and so I really encourage patients and their caregivers. And a lot of times this happens, where we’ll go over all the cytogenetic abnormalities, we’ll talk about how it plays a role in their overall treatment trajectory, and their prognosis, but also good just to circle back and say. 

Settling into what this diagnosis is, oftentimes, people on first time treatment. And then even sometimes months or even years into their diagnosis, they stop and they come back and they say, “Can we talk about this FISH data? Can we talk about what changes that I had within the DNA? What does this mean?” And that’s not uncommon at all.  

So, I really feel like for many people that are on the call here today, I think it’s important to say it’s okay to go back to your physician and say, “I’m learning more about this, now that I’m more familiar with what this diagnosis is, can we talk about these FISH changes, or can we talk about the stage of my cancer?” Because I think it’s oftentimes an overwhelming period of time to have a new cancer diagnosis. And I also want to just give permission to everyone on the call that it’s okay to go back and ask questions, even if it’s been months or years.  

So, having high-risk mutation can upstage a cancer and in the absence of high-risk mutations can downstage a cancer. So, what that really means is saying, “These biologic changes that are happening in the cancer cells give a sense of what we anticipate that the trajectory is going to be when someone is diagnosed.” 

Now, it’s imperfect. I feel like cancer just generally is unpredictable and there are many things that we try as clinicians. And especially with the experience that we have, to say, “This is what we anticipate the course will be like you, in terms of response, in terms of the cancer being quiet.” As you all know, multiple myeloma is not a curable cancer right now. And for all patients, when they’re diagnosed, they’re often able to get disease control and be able for that cancer to be put in remission. And we do focus on remission. 

I think that’s also something that I talk to my patients about. Even though we can’t cure it, we can certainly control it, and that’s a big part of what we do. So, when we get good disease control, we’ll talk more about next therapies, but that is how Dr. Cottini – Dr. Cottini is a wonderful scientific investigator and knows all of the latest and greatest when it comes to different mutations that are identified within cancer cells. We partner very closely with her in terms of  scientific investigation and how the mutations that were newly identified, too, play a role in terms of response to treatment, and how we’re able to best treat them.  

Katherine:

Thank you for that. Dr. Cottini, do you have anything to add as far as what type of questions patients should ask their healthcare team about test results?  

Dr. Cottini:

I mean, I think Dr. Rosko already pointed out the most important things. So, multiple myeloma is a rare disease, and it’s not as intuitive to understand as breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer. 

So, it’s really important as a patient to understand which tests are we ordering. Why are we ordering? How do we monitor the disease? Because that’s one of the most important questions the patient asks, because for different types of solid tumor, we get imaging, and we know that the tumor is growing or not. Where, for us, we look at the markers I had described previously. And sometimes, we maybe see small changes in the markers that are very concerning and worrisome for the patient, but sometimes they are not. So, I think asking questions about the testing and how we treat them and monitor the disease is a very important part of being a good applique for itself. 

Katherine:

Thank you. Dr. Rosko, I’d like to move on to treatment. We know that multiple myeloma patients have a number of options and that many available therapies are used in combination. 

So, I’d like you to walk us through the options that are available. 

Dr. Rosko:

So, I’m going to start by how the best way that I can frame out when we talk about newly diagnosed versus patients when they have relapse. So, there are therapies that are available for patients that are FDA-approved when they are newly diagnosed with the cancer, and there are therapies that are approved only when a cancer has acted up again or relapsed. 

So, I’ll kind of frame it from patients who are newly diagnosed. And then, I also will talk more about relapsed therapies and what we’re able to offer to patients. So, in first, when we talk about treatment options, we frame treatment based on a couple things. So, one is, we talk extensively about the disease biology. So, that plays an important role in how we decide which treatment the patient should get.  

And then, the second part about how – I would probably say there’s about four main parts. And so, disease biology is one, and another thing has to do with the patient characteristics. In terms of the patient’s overall health prior to developing cancer, and also how the cancer has impacted their health in terms of everyday activities. Whether or not a person has really slowed down quickly, whether they’ve been in the hospital, and how it’s impacting their organs. Because that plays a role in terms of what we’re able to give patients.  

If a patient has advanced kidney failure, which can sometimes happen, or if you have to focus more on protecting their bones and if there’s concern about fractures and things like that. And then independent of patient characteristics in terms of overall health, the last part I talk to patients about is their own preferences. It’s a hard thing to talk about, shared decision-making in a cancer that most people have never heard about, but there is certainly – when we talk about options and there are, it’s important to talk about shared decision-making in terms of what’s most important to them and where they – and most patients will say, “Well, I just want the best medicine.” 

And I say to them, “Well, you know, we have lots of options, and that’s the best thing about it, but we also want to be cognizant of the real world, of giving best options,” and for example, Many of my patients – so, I’m at The Ohio State University, I’m here. And a lot of patients travel. I have a lot of older patients that I care for, and they’re very independent with travel. And I want to make sure that whatever therapies we’re getting for them, that we can do this in such a way that maintains their lifestyle.  

So, the beginning part of a treatment, it is broadly described as – when we talk about someone who was diagnosed with this, it’s this thing called induction. So, induction is when we give anywhere from two to four medications to be able to control their cancer and put it into remission. And we know that the cancer is in remission because, like we started out the conversation with Dr. Cottini, myeloma makes proteins. Oftentimes, it makes proteins, those proteins are not nutrition proteins but are cancer proteins that we can track in the blood. 

So, we can check them every month and to make sure that the patients are having a really good response, and as such, we’re able to define that they’re responding to their treatment. Because they have a beginning stage in induction, which they’re given treatment, and then the goal is to put patients put in remission. 

Depending on the overall health of the patient, a standard of care for most patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma is to undergo an autologous stem cell transplant. An autologous stem cell transplant is not a transplant in which you’re getting cells from your brother or sister and they’re being donated to you. They are your own stem cells. We get them out of you when your bone marrow is free of disease, and then we would admit you to the hospital for a more intensive therapy and give them back.  

That is often the standard of care for patients newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma and it is recommended for most patients. Some patients get – I like to think of it as a stem cell transplant not at the time of their initial diagnosis, but later on at the time of relapse or some patients are not candidates for a transplant or elect not to have a transplant. And all of these options are very personalized to the patient. It’s very hard to say that this is exactly what we do. 

Because it’s a strategy where it requires a lot of shared decision-making to make sure that we’re getting good disease control, good quality of life, and deep, deep remissions for our patients. So, then, if a patient gets a transplant, there’s a period of recovery, and then patients go on a pill most often, a maintenance pill that they stay on for indefinitely. 

Myeloma is also a cancer which has perpetual therapy. Very different than many other cancers, where there’s a beginning and an end, myeloma for the most part is perpetual therapy, where you get some form of therapy at higher dosages versus lower dosages over a period of time.  

So, I’m going to talk broadly about the classes of drugs that we have and how we use them to be able to define therapy. 

So, the first class of drugs are called proteasome inhibitors. Just like many other cancers, we use different types of drugs to be able to target different aspects of a cancer cell’s growth cycle.  

So, very similar to how we do other drugs, these are very specific to the cancer cell, and they’re very targeted. So, unlike some of our other kind of classic chemotherapies, many of these medicines that I’m going to talk about are very targeted at the cancer cells without causing too many other problems. 

So, proteasome inhibitors include drugs like bortezomib (Velcade), which is given as a shot, carfilzomib (Kyprolis), which is given as an IV, or ixazomib (Ninlaro), which is given as a pill. They have different indications, but they’re the same class of drugs.  

The next class of drugs is called immunomodulatory drugs, or iMiDs. This includes things like lenalidomide (Revlimid), pomalidomide (Pomalyst). Those are the most common, and then we sometimes use the drug that the original iMiD drug, which is called thalidomide (Contergan). 

These are all pills that patients take, and so that’s oftentimes very nice for patients to be able to provide therapy at home, very well-tolerated. The next class of drugs are called monoclonal antibodies. On a cancerous cell, there is a marker. 

And so, we use monoclonal antibodies to be able to target the marker on the cancer cell. What that means is very specific. To that cancer cell, so, the most common target is the CD38, that’s a marker on one of the cancer cells. And we use a drug called daratumumab (Darzalex), that can be given as an IV or a subcutaneous agent, or another drug called isatuximab (Sarclisa). We also have other markers on the plasma cell. There’s a marker called SLAMF7, which we have other drugs called elotuzumab (Empliciti), which is often used for patients more in the relapse setting.  

Katherine:

Dr. Cottini, I’m wondering if you could briefly go over CAR T-cell therapy and bispecific antibodies. 

Dr. Cottini:

Yes, of course. So, these are all our new therapeutic approaches for patients. And these are types of treatments that are given to patients that already went through their induction, they went into remission, maybe they had a bone marrow transplant. And then, after a couple of years or months, unfortunately the disease came back, and they need the new and different treatment options. So, these two strategies, CAR T and bispecific antibodies, really rely on the T-cells, on the immune cells of the patient.  

And they all focus and target a specific marker on the plasma cells, but they work a little bit differently. So, the bispecific antibodies – and we have different antibodies.  

Some are approved by the FDA, some are just in clinical trials trials. They practically recognize something that is on the plasma cells, on the myeloma cells, that can be BCMA, GPRC5D, or other targets. So, at the same time that I am able to get close by the T cells, the immune cells, and in this way, practically there is both the antibodies and also the immune cells which is activating and getting rid of the cancer cells. 

So, these are infusions. Often, they’re done initially in the hospital and then in the outpatient setting. Sometimes it’s even every week, every other week or so.  

CAR T are different strategies, and it’s a very smart way of trying to get rid of the cancer cells. So, practically, these are T cells.  

So, these are immune cells from you, from the patient. And they are practically taken and then brought to a very specific and clean facilities where these T cells are modified in order to be able to recognize the cancer cells.  

And then these cancer cells are sent back to us and then practically they are given into the veins to patient, and then there is this kind of reaction of these T cells, which are very peppy and aggressive to be able to kill all the remaining cancer cells. So, these are all the new strategies. 

Obviously, we are kind of like in the early process, but these are very promising therapies I think we’ll be maybe moved up front even with diagnosis in the next 10, 20 years, we don’t know. 

Katherine:

I want to thank you both so much for your thoughtful responses. And as we close out the program, I’d like to get a final comment from each of you. What are you excited about in myeloma research, and why should patients be hopeful? Dr. Cottini?  

Dr. Cottini:

So, I think that especially if we look back especially at where myeloma was 20 or 30 years, I think we have made so many progresses, and there is really hope for our patients. I’m very passionate about research. That’s what I do. That’s why I read paper, I publish paper, and I think that it’s the heterogeneity of our disease is huge, and it’s difficult to tackle. But we as researchers, as physicians are the ones that can look at these changes, and find new therapies for our patients. So, I think that research is the way to go to be able to finally cure our patients. 

Katherine:

Dr. Rosko? 

Dr. Rosko:

Yeah, I mean I go Dr. Cottini’s sentiments. The multiplying therapies for myeloma really provides our ability to prescribe and make myeloma more of a chronic illness for our patients. I think it’s really important to allow patients to get really good targeted therapy personalized to them. Of course, we all are looking forward here to deep remissions. We want to be able to do that in such a way where we have good quality life for our patients. 

I think, importantly, as part of this program does here, we have to create access. So, most of myeloma is treated in the community, and most myeloma is diagnosed in older adults. And I really think how important it is, we talk about clinical trials, and being able to get our patients on to clinical trials, and to be able to get more knowledge about the disease process of pathogenesis, which I think is just really pivotal. 

So, I’m excited about personalizing therapy to the individual’s health and really being able to increase access to all of these novel therapies that we have. For patients, often at specialized cancer centers, but I’m really interested in how we can increase reach and access for all of these advances in myeloma research to every patient no matter where they’re at. 

Katherine:

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

Tools for Choosing Myeloma Therapy

Tools for Choosing Myeloma Therapy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When faced with choosing a myeloma treatment, what should be considered? This animated video reviews factors that impact treatment decisions, provides a list of questions to ask your healthcare team about therapy and advice for engaging in your myeloma care.

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Immunotherapy: Which Myeloma Patients Is It Right For? 


Transcript:

Whether a patient is newly diagnosed with myeloma or is facing a relapse, choosing a treatment approach can feel overwhelming.   

Shared decision-making is a process where patients and healthcare providers communicate and collaborate to make care decisions. This approach encourages patients to take a more active role in their care and treatment and can help them feel more confident when choosing a therapy. 

So, what can impact myeloma treatment decisions? 

  • There are patient-related factors, such as a patient’s age, fitness level, and pre-existing conditions. 
  • And, disease-related factors, including the aggressiveness of the patient’s disease and its location in the body. 
  • And, treatment-related factors, such as past treatments a patient has received or if they are refractory to medicines. 

How can you play a role in making treatment decisions?  

You can start by making a list of questions in advance of your appointment. This can help you to organize your thoughts before you meet with your healthcare team.  

And, when working with your doctor to choose a treatment, consider asking the following questions: 

  • What type of myeloma do I have?  
  • Are there test results that may impact my treatment choices? 
  • What are the risks and benefits of each treatment option? 
  • What approach do you recommend and why?  
  • How is the treatment administered, and what side effects might I expect? 
  • What are my options if this treatment stops working? 
  • Are there newer treatment options available to me, including immunotherapy?  
  • And, is there a clinical trial that might be right for me?  

It’s also a good idea to bring a friend or loved one to your appointment for support to take notes and help you recall information. Afterwards, discuss the appointment together – you can use this time to talk about your care plan and do your own research to learn more about your options.   

The patient portal is another useful tool in your care. You can use it to view lab and test results. And you can use the messaging feature to communicate with your healthcare team when you have more urgent questions to address before your next visit. 

Now that you know more about how to make myeloma treatment decisions, how can you take action? 

  • First, consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist. 
  • Then, ensure you have had all relevant myeloma testing. 
  • Next, understand and participate in treatment decisions. This includes learning about your options, so you can weigh the pros and cons of each approach. And be sure to speak up and share your personal preferences and goals with your care team. 
  • Communicate regularly with your healthcare team – don’t wait to share information only when you have an appointment.  
  • And finally, bring a friend or loved one to appointments and always write down any questions or concerns in advance. 

Visit powerfulpatients.org/myeloma to learn more about myeloma and access tools for self-advocacy. 

What Is CAR T-Cell Therapy for Myeloma?

What Is CAR T-Cell Therapy for Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How does CAR T-cell therapy work to treat myeloma? This animated video provides an overview of the CAR T-cell process, explains which patient this treatment could be appropriate for, and reviews potential side effects.

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Transcript:

CAR T-cell therapy is a type of treatment in which a patient’s own immune system cells, also known as T cells, are reprogrammed in a laboratory to attack cancer cells.  

The process involves removing T cells from the patient’s blood. Then, the T cells are sent to a laboratory where a gene for a special receptor that binds to a protein on the patient’s cancer cells is added to the T cells. The special receptor is called a chimeric antigen receptor.  

When this process is complete, the cells are put back into the patient’s body by infusion. The altered T cells then attack and destroy cancer cells in the patient’s body. 

In myeloma patients, the FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapies recognize a protein called B.C.M.A. on the surface of myeloma cells. 

Now that you know how CAR T-cell therapy works, who is CAR T-cell therapy right for? 

  • While still a new treatment, CAR T-cell therapy is currently approved for people with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma who have already received four or more lines of therapy. 

While every patient reacts differently to CAR T-cell therapy, some of the potential side effects may include: 

  •  Cytokine Release Syndrome, which occurs when the immune system responds to infection or immunotherapy drugs more aggressively than it should. Symptoms may include fever, nausea, fatigue, and body aches.
  • Another potential side effect is neurotoxicity, which may cause negative effects on the nervous system such as confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding, loss of balance or consciousness, tremors and seizures. 
  • And blood count recovery can be slower following CAR T-cell therapy.   

So, what should you ask your doctor about CAR T-cell therapy? 

  • Is CAR T-cell therapy available at this cancer center? 
  • Is CAR T-cell therapy an option for me now or in the future? 
  • What is the cost of this therapy? 
  • What are the risks and benefits of this approach? 
  • What can I expect during the recovery process? 

To learn more about innovative myeloma therapies and to access tools to help you become a pro-active patient, visit powerfulpatients.org.  

Expert Perspective: Why Myeloma Patients Should Weigh in on Their Care Decisions

Expert Perspective: Why Myeloma Patients Should Weigh in on Their Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Abdullah Khan shares key advice encouraging patients to participate in care and treatment decisions and discusses the importance of communicating symptoms and side effects to your healthcare team.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

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Expert Perspective Advances in Treating Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma

The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s turn to decision-making, Dr. Khan. What is the role of the myeloma patient when making care and treatment decisions?  

Dr. Khan:

As a provider, my role is to inform the patient of the facts and the need for a decision. The purpose of the discussions is to determine the patient’s goals and preferences, because it’s essential the patient’s values of respected. The best outcomes occur when the medical facts align with the patient’s preferences. And this is a multi-disciplinary team approach.  

Katherine:

Why is it so important for patients to share any symptoms and side effects they’re having with their healthcare team?   

Dr. Khan:

I read something recently on an NIH website titled “What Do I Need To Tell the Doctor?” that I think answers this question well. And I’m quoting the article. “Talking about your health means sharing information about how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. Knowing how to describe your symptoms and bringing up other concerns will help you become a partner in your healthcare.”  

I think I really like that end, “partner in your healthcare.” The patient’s symptoms and suggest disease or disorder in the body. If there are concerns, this may prompt a clinic visit or the patient may be advised to go to the closest ER or urgent care depending on the urgency of the situation. But in other cases, the healthcare team may help provide reassurance that the symptom can be continued to be monitored more resolution, or it can be evaluated in more detail if it persists or worsens.  

Katherine:

What about side effects? Why is that important for patients to share any side effects they may be having?  

Dr. Khan:

Side effects may be a result of the disease itself. It might be a marker of the side effects from the treatment. Or I’m focused on the multiple myeloma, but there’s every other organ system in the body that also needs help. So, the myeloma might be doing okay. The treatment might be doing okay. But, for example, we might have a lung toxicity from their pre-existing COPD or a heart toxicity from their pre-existing coronary artery disease. So, it’s very important to share all symptoms So, we can see how to properly assess it.   

Katherine:

And better care for the patient.  

Dr. Khan:

Right.  

Expert Perspective: Advances in Treating Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma

Expert Perspective: Advances in Treating Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan, of Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James, reviews currently available treatments as well as those in development for patients with relapsed or refractory myeloma. 

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

 

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Expert Perspective Why Myeloma Patients Should Weigh in on Their Care Decisions

Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined

Transcript:

Katherine:

Are there any recent advances in treatment for patients with relapsed or refractory disease?  

Dr. Khan:

Currently and in the past 20 years or so, we’ve seen about 20 approvals for new drugs for patients with multiple myeloma. The way the approval process works it typically looks at the effectiveness of a drug in the relapsed refractory setting first. And after establishing the safety and efficacy, the therapies are moved earlier in the disease course.   

The great example of this are the anti-CD38 monoclonal antibodies daratumumab and isatuximab. They were first approved in the relapsed refractory setting in combination with other antimyeloma treatments. And due to their impressive effectiveness and relative safety, they’re already being used in the frontline setting for patients with newly diagnosed multiple myeloma.   

In the newly diagnosed setting, a commonly cited study is the phase two GRIFFIN trial. And that added daratumumab to the BRd, or bendamustine (Bendeka, Treanda), lenalidomide (Revlimid), dexamethasone backbone.  

And Europe, they completed the phase three study of adding isatuximab, the other anti-CD38 monoclonal antibody to the BRd backbone. And what we’re finding what was very effective in the relapsed refractory setting was actually adding to the efficacy of newly diagnosed treatment regiments. As a side note, these trials – there are also trials looking at daratumumab and isatuximab in the smoldering myeloma phase, so moving it even earlier.  

I think one of the most attractive new targets in myeloma is targeting this antigen called B-cell maturing antigen, and a number of therapies are being developed or are already developed for it. The first approved was belantamab mafodotin, and this is an antibody drug conjugate. 

So, when the antibody binds to BCMA on the multiple myeloma cells, it releases its toxic payload into the myeloma cell. And so, it’s very effective towards myeloma, and no other good cells or fewer other good cells are affected by it. To provide some numbers, in patients with a median of seven prior lines of treatments, meaning their myeloma had relapsed that many times, the response rate was about 30 percent. And a fifth of those patients had VGPR, very good partial response, or better response.  

There are also bispecific antibodies that target this myeloma marker, and we anticipate getting one approved soon in the U.S. called teclistamab. Teclistamab is an antibody that binds both CD3 on T cells of the immune system and B-cell maturating BCMA on the myeloma cells. 

So, the way this antibody kills myeloma is by activating the T cells, the immune system, and directly killing the tumor. So, this was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And in people who were treated with at least five prior lines of therapy, the response rate was about 63 percent, and the median progression-free survival, or the time until the myeloma progressed, was about 11 months.  

We were very active in a clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of another antibody, a bispecific antibody, called Regeneron 5458. In a similar patient population, the response rates were 75 percent in the higher-dose level group, and right now it’s actually a bit too early to tell how long the progression free survival is or the duration of response. 

There are also other bispecifics in development targeting other myeloma markers ssuch as talquetamab, that binds to a marker called GPRC5D, and cevostamab, which binds to a marker called FcRH5. The response rates as single agents in patients with relapsed refractory multiple myeloma are 66 percent and 45 percent respectively. These are all incredible numbers for a single drug in the relapsed refractory setting.  

How Does Disease Staging Affect Myeloma Treatment Choices?

How Does Disease Staging Affect Myeloma Treatment Choices? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the stages of myeloma, and how does this affect care? Dr. Abdullah Khan, a myeloma specialist, reviews how myeloma is staged, which genetic markers may affect risk, and the impact of staging on treatment decisions.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

 

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Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Myeloma Induction and Consolidation Therapy Defined

Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined

Transcript:

Katherine:

How does staging affect treatment option?  

Dr. Khan:

Staging is done by two methods. The older method is the international staging system, abbreviated as ISS. And then there’s the newer revised ISS, or RISS. 

The patients are assigned stages one to three. To determine the ISS you need lab values for the beta-2 microglobulin and albumin. For the revised ISS, you add on the lab value for LDH, lactate dehydrogenase, and you also add in the chromosome risk profile. So, there are certain genetic changes that predict a more aggressive myeloma. And the ones added to the revised ISS staging system are translocation 4;14, translocation 14;16, and deletion 17p.  

So, that’s the ISS stage and the revised ISS stage. There are also other factors patient providers look into when determining the risk profile for patients. So, that might include other genetic changes. 

One that is gaining a bit more traction right now is something called gain 1q, or amplification 1q, so more than one copy of part a chromosome. Some patients might have myeloma that doesn’t start, and the bone marrow might be found outside of the bones. And that’s called extramedullary disease, and sometimes that’s kind of high-risk. And some people have so much bone marrow plasma cells that it actually spills into their bloodstream. So, they might have high circulating plasma cells. Anyway, this will give information on staging.  

And in terms of how it affects treatment option, I’ll give maybe two examples. Let’s say in case one we have a 40-year-old patient high-risk multiple myeloma. The high risk portends a poorer prognosis, meaning the outcomes might not be as good as someone with a standard myeloma. So, in that case, I might try to do or use the most aggressive treatment option in order to maximize treatment responses because I know the overall outcome is poor. 

I do all this while acknowledging maybe the chances of having side effects might be higher, but that might be an acceptable tradeoff.  

In case two, I’ll flip to an 80-year-old with standard risk cytogenetics.  

So, I predict their myeloma to behave standard. In this case, I might try to use a regimen with a more acceptable safety profile, because the predicted response to treatment is anyways very good. So, I don’t want to hurt them in the process of getting their myeloma in remission.  

I’ll also say this. My practice pattern at The Ohio State University might be a little different than someone on the East Coast or West Coast, and that’s okay. We all have our experiences with the different treatment regimens, but we all have the same goal of being as aggressive as we can while being mindful of side effects. 

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing Myeloma Care?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing Myeloma Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan discusses how CAR T-cell therapy works to treat myeloma, the currently approved CAR T-cell therapies, and the outcomes related to progression free survival (PFS) for patients with heavily pre-treated myeloma.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

See More from Innovative Myeloma Therapies

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Immunotherapy: Which Myeloma Patients Is It Right For?

Immunotherapy: Which Patients Is It Right For?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?

What Are the Risks of CAR T-Cell Therapy?

Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s talk about CAR T-cell therapy. How is CAR T-cell therapy changing the field?  

Dr. Khan:

Myeloma was a little late to the CAR-T game, but we’re very happy it’s here. The two products approved in myeloma are idecabtagene vicleucel, ide-cel for short, and ciltacabtagene autoleucel, or cilta-cel for short. 

So, the way CAR Ts work, they are customized T cells for each individual patient. You collect the T cell from the patient with myeloma. You reengineer them in the laboratory to produce proteins on their surface called chimeric antigen receptor. That’s CAR portion of the CAR T therapy. And these CARs recognize and bind specific proteins on the surface of multiple myeloma.  

So, these genetically modified T cells are then expanded or multiplied to make millions of cells. They’re sent back to the hospital where they were collected, where the patient is. And they’re infused back into the patient. The hope is that these modified cells, these CAR T cells, will continue to multiply in the patient. And with guidance from that engineered receptor, they will recognize and kill multiple myeloma very effectively. 

So, I can provide some numbers to the outcomes of the two approved CAR T cells – CAR T products in multiple myeloma. The first approved was ide-cel in patients with a median of six prior lines of therapy, a single dose of CAR T was able to produce an objective response rate – that’s how many people responded to the treatment – of 73 percent, and the median, the middle person, progressed after 8.8 months of getting this treatment. The other product, cilta-cel, was also studied in patients with a median of six prior lines of therapy, and the objective response rate was an astounding 98 percent.  

Katherine:

Wow.  

Dr. Khan:

And the median progression-free survival is actually not yet reached. So, these are remarkable results with heavily pre-treated myeloma. And the myeloma community’s very excited to actually bring these treatments to earlier lines of therapy such as a newly diagnosed patient with multiple myeloma. 

Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing

Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is molecular testing, and how does it impact myeloma care? Dr. Abdullah Khan from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James discusses the specific markers found in cytogenetic analysis that determine a patient’s risk and may impact treatment choices.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

See More From INSIST! Myeloma

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What Tests Are Essential Before Choosing a Myeloma Treatment Approach?

Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients

Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients

How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?

How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Have there been advances in molecular testing for myeloma patients?  

Dr. Khan:

Molecular testing is a broad term and can indicate checking genes, proteins, and other molecules. Even let’s say speaking outside of the world of myeloma, molecular testing can be used to determine in individuals if they have a high chance of developing cancers or other diseases.  

It can be done to confirm so cancer diagnoses using the tissue biopsy specimens. It can also be used to help plan treatment, find out how well the treatment is working, provide prognosis information, and other information. In the world of myeloma, there are – in the world of myeloma, there are researchers looking at all of these molecular changes that can happen with disease.  

Katherine:

So, how do the results of these tests affect treatment?  

Dr. Khan:

There’s a particular cytogenetic change called translocation 11;14 that’s found in maybe a quarter of all patients with newly diagnosed myeloma, and it predicts a high likelihood of responding to a new drug called venetoclax.  

In the clinical trial of venetoclax, when it was given to all patients with multiple myeloma, there was actually higher mortality in patients when given venetoclax in combination with bortezomib and dexamethasone. And this is despite a higher response rate by adding the venetoclax.  

The thought process was maybe those patients were not doing well because of higher chances of serious infections. But when they took the data and they looked at that subgroup of patients with the translocation 11;14, there was no such concern in that subgroup. So, in this case of having translocation 11;14, it actually giving you a new treatment option based on the findings of the molecular testing. 

We participate in a national clinical trial called MyDRUG, and that’s looking at other molecular changes to see if a more targeted treatment when added to the backbone of myeloma therapies translates to better outcomes.  

Another recent development in molecular testing is diagnostic testing for minimal residual disease, and that’s from the bone marrow in patients with multiple myeloma.  

The most commonly used test in clinical trials is the clonoSEQ test; it’s an FDA-cleared diagnostic test. The way it works it looks for specific DNA sequences on the receptors of the cancer cells. So, each cancer cell has like a genetic barcode.  

Using the liquid part of the marrow, we can look for those cells that harbor that genetic barcode. 

And the test is so sensitive, we can find one in a million cells in a patient’s bone marrow aspirate. So, it’s a very sensitive test, but it is not yet approved for making treatment decisions. One way we can use it though is for prognostic information. So, a patient attaining minimal residual disease-negative status or MRD-negativity, probably will do better than someone who has MRD-positive disease.  

And there’s an emerging concept called sustained MRD negativity. So, let’s take an example of someone getting MRD testing at one year and two years after their stem cell transplant. The patient who is MRD-negative at both the one-year and two-year marks will likely do better than the one who is MRD-negative at one year but turns positive at the two-year mark. 

So, these are some of the new developments in molecular testing in multiple myeloma.  

What Tests Are Essential Before Choosing a Myeloma Treatment Approach?

What Tests Are Essential Before Choosing a Myeloma Treatment Approach? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan, a myeloma specialist, discusses the types of tests that myeloma patients should undergo before choosing therapy, at diagnosis, and if they relapse.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

See More From INSIST! Myeloma

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Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing

Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing

Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients

Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients

How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?

How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What testing should take place before choosing a myeloma treatment?  

Dr. Khan:

I thought I could answer this question in an indirect way first.  

Katherine:

Okay.  

Dr. Khan:

I just wanted to let the audience know that anyone, including those that are not in the medical field, can create an account with the nccn.org. That’s the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s website.  

And from there they can download the myeloma guidelines, which are available to all myeloma providers as well. And in the guidelines, there are sections for workup, treatment, how to follow patients with myeloma, and many other things.   

So, going back to the question, the first patient encounter will likely include a thorough history and physical exam. Initial lab work includes blood counts, the serum chemistries so we know about the liver and kidney function, multiple myeloma markers. And patients about get very familiar with monoclonal protein, the serum immunoglobulins, and the serum-free light chains. 

These are used as the surrogates for responses when you’re undergoing treatment for the myeloma. We will also at the first visit probably also do a 24-hour urine collection, and that’s looking for the abnormal protein in the urine.  

There’s imaging. In the past, we used to do x-rays head to toe. That’s sometimes called the myeloma survey or the skeletal survey. But the new recommendations are actually looking for something a bit more sensitive.  

So, at our practice, what we do is a PET scan.  

So, that includes functional information as well the images themselves. And some institutions may do a PET scan head to toe using low-dose radiation. The final test we will do in patients with newly diagnosed myeloma is a bone marrow biopsy and an aspirate. 

So, the biopsy’s looking at the bone itself and the architecture. And the aspirate, you take the liquid part of the bone marrow, and you can ascertain a lot of information including the burden of myeloma when the patient’s newly diagnosed.  

Katherine:

What do you mean by “burden”?   

Dr. Khan:

You can quantify the number of cancerous plasma cells in the bone marrow. So, some of the information says you have a healthy amount of good bone marrow cells, 50 percent, 60 percent, for example, but of that 50 percent, 60 percent, maybe 80 percent is taken over by myeloma. So, you will get burden of myeloma information from there.  

Katherine:

What additional testing should take place following a relapse?  

Dr. Khan:

I’ll start that response by first talking about the types of relapses, and there are two broad categories. If we see the myeloma coming back as just the monoclonal protein going back up from its lowest, or maybe the serum-free light chain going up – and there are very specific criteria for what defiance a relapse. But if it’s just a number, we call it a biochemical relapse.  

On the other side, there’s a clinical relapse. And at that point, there might be new end organ damage. We’ve heard of the acronym CRAB when we’re describing myeloma. That stands for hypercalcemia, renal or kidney insufficiency, anemia, and bone disease. So, these are end organ damage directly from the multiple myeloma. 

So, typically, we’ll try to change the management at biochemical relapse, because a new organ injury may contribute to the patient’s frailty, or it might even limit the treatment options. The testing out of relapse is pretty similar to the first diagnosis. We’ll repeat the history and the physical example, the labs, imaging. And more often than not, I’ll also recommend a bone marrow biopsy to see is that myeloma changing genetically, and does it help me kind of determine new treatment options.  

Myeloma Expert Debunks Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions

Myeloma Expert Debunks Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdullah Khan, a myeloma specialist, shares advice for individuals that may be hesitant to participate in a clinical trial, reviews the phases of trials, and explain the informed consent process.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Abdullah Khan.

See More from Myeloma Clinical Trials 201

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Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team

The Benefits of Participating in a Myeloma Clinical Trial


Transcript:

Katherine:

What would you say to someone who’s hesitant in participating in a trial?  

Dr. Khan:

Well, the decision to participate is complex and personal, but the ultimate decision regarding trial participation rests with the patient. So, some of the reasons why patients might be hesitant, they might have distrust toward the medical community given the history of clinical trials in this country. If we take the example of the abuse of African American patients during the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, that’s just one example.  

Katherine:

Yeah.  

Dr. Khan:

Another reason patients might be hesitant is they don’t like the idea of being randomized to the treatment that they’re going to get. 

So, they might end up getting a placebo. They might get another standard of care. And they might not get that new, fancy drug. So, giving up that level of control does require some compromise. Another reason is the uncertainty of the potential side effects of the chemotherapy drugs, especially if you’re participating in an early-phase clinical trial.  

Furthermore, trials require very defined and frequent monitoring sometimes. So, some patients might not like the time commitment to a clinical trial. Another reason might be that there are concerns for cost. I can alleviate that concern by saying that typically there are mandates that the insurer cover the routine costs of clinical trials.  

Katherine:

You mentioned some misconceptions. Are there any others that patients might have about participating in a trial? 

Dr. Khan:

I guess the two most common things, the first one, and I think all providers have heard this, “I will be treated like a guinea pig.”  

Katherine:

Yeah.   

Dr. Khan:

For me, that is probably the furthest from the truth because of all the safeguards in place. Clinical trial participants are followed the most closely and probably get more medical attention than someone who is not on clinical trial. To participate in the clinical trial, the participant has to voluntarily – and that’s the keyword – sign an informed consent form. And finally, the participant can also leave the trial at any time for any reason.   

Another common misconception is that clinical trials of dangerous because they use untested drugs. There might be some truth to that. There are many phases to clinical trials. And in some early-phase clinical trials it is true that participant may actually be the first to ever get the new therapy. 

So, some of the outcomes are not known. But in late-phrase clinical trials, tens to thousands of patients may have already been treated with the study drug, so there a lot of preliminary safety data and also efficacy data.  

The Benefits of Participating in a Myeloma Clinical Trial

The Benefits of Participating in a Myeloma Clinical Trial from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Abdullah Khan discusses why myeloma patients should consider joining a clinical trial, addresses safety protocols for trials, and shares how participation in research advances medicine.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Abdullah Khan.

See More from Myeloma Clinical Trials 201

Related Programs:

Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option

Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team

Myeloma Expert Debunks Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions


Transcript:

Katherine:

I’d like to turn to clinical trials now. Why should a myeloma patient consider participating in a clinical trial?  

Dr. Khan:

The main potential benefit to a patient includes getting a new treatment for a disease before it’s even approved for other patient with multiple myeloma. Sure, clinical trials have risks and benefits, but participating in a clinical trial is probably also safer than ever.  

What I mean by that is clinicians that participate in clinical trials are required to follow very strict rules and guidelines to make sure the participants are safe, and these rules are enforced by the federal government. Each clinical trial also follows a careful study plan, or protocol, and that describes what researchers will do and when they will do it. 

And the principal investigator, or the lead researcher, for that clinical trial has the responsibility that the protocol is followed at every site that the study is available. So, generally, that also means participants will get more frequent health checkups as being part of the clinical trial. And by volunteering for a clinical trial, patients are helping themselves and also the general society for patients afflicted with multiple myeloma.  

Katherine:

Right. Everyone who comes after them would be impacted. Why is patient participation in myeloma clinical trials critical to advancing research?  

Dr. Khan:

Clinical trials help researchers better understand health and disease. Clinical trial participation is actually considered the gold standard of providing medical healthcare.  

And, in fact, every therapy that is currently approved for myeloma right now is a direct consequence of participation of brave volunteers.  

Making Myeloma Treatment Decisions at Every Stage of Care

Making Myeloma Treatment Decisions at Every Stage of Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Mark Schroeder, of Siteman Cancer Center, reviews the types of treatment approaches available for patients with myeloma, discusses how therapies are chosen and why, including in the relapsed and refractory setting. Dr. Schroeder also shares an update on new and emerging myeloma therapies.

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

See More from Engaging in Myeloma Treatment Decisions

Download Resource Guide

 

Related Resources:

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

How Is a Myeloma Patient in Active Treatment Monitored?

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. Today’s program is about how to actively engage in myeloma treatment decisions at every stage of 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. Mark Schroeder. Dr. Schroeder, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah. Hi, Katherine. Thanks for having me. I’m Dr. Mark Schroeder. I’m an Associate Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to join us. As I mentioned, this webinar is about actively engaging in myeloma care decisions. So, I’d like to start with this important question, why is it essential for patients to play a role in their care and treatment decisions? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, I mean patients are – a patient should be actively involved in decisions with their doctor. As a physician, doctors are thinking about “What is the best treatment for their disease or their cancer?” and patients, I think, have a role in trying to guide the doctor in terms of what outcomes they are seeking from treatment, what is there lifestyle like that we could potentially guide treatment around. Patients have different goals. Sometimes in cancer, we’re going for curative therapies. Sometimes we’re not, and quality of life is more important. Having an actively engaged patient ensures that your doctor is trying to tailor treatment to you.  

The patient who is educated also helps to bring resources to their physician about – sometimes physicians may not know of all the clinical trials that are ongoing or potentially even therapies. But have a patient ask about certain studies or ask about certain therapies, it helps to open a conversation with your physician to discuss those and to kind of talk through why it may or may not be a good idea for them in particular. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, thank you. That helps guide us as we begin our conversation. As a patient, engaging in your care starts with understanding your diagnosis, so I’d like to go through some definitions. What is multiple myeloma? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer. It’s a cancer in particular of a blood cell called a plasma cell. Everybody has normal plasma cells in their body. It’s part of your immune system that responds to infections; they are also cells that respond to vaccinations.  

And when a plasma cell becomes a cancer, it often forms a cancer called multiple myeloma. And that cancer results often times in damage to bones, low blood counts or anemia, potentially kidney problems, or possibly seeing high levels of calcium.  

Katherine Banwell:

What about smoldering myeloma? What is that? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, smoldering myeloma is a stage that happens prior to the development of myeloma that is causing organ damage. I talked about the damage to bones, kidneys, blood cells – that is called the CRAB criteria. The C stands for calcium, the R renal, A anemia, and B bones. We define myeloma by having damage to one of those four essential systems.  

Smoldering myeloma can happen when we actually see plasma cells that look like myeloma – that look like cancer cells, but they’re not causing the CRAB features of multiple myeloma. And there is a chance that sometimes that smoldering form of myeloma, it’s not causing any damage, but it can evolve and change into myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

What is MGUS?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

MGUS is a stage that happens prior to smoldering myeloma. We know that MGUS which stands for monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance – it’s a mouthful. That’s why we like to say MGUS.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

But it’s a protein that can be detected in your blood. Sometimes that protein does not mean you have a cancer. We can detect proteins like that in blood in patients who have, say, autoimmune diseases, and they’re at low levels. It’s just an immune response; it’s produced by those plasma cells that can be cancerous, but sometimes plasma cells grow because they’re stimulated – they’re overstimulated.  

And so, that monoclonal protein of MGUS can be detected in the blood, but we don’t see an increase in the number of cells in the bones that are classic for myeloma. But we know that about 1 percent of patients who have MGUS, every year, 1 percent might progress on to develop multiply myeloma. So, it’s a risk factor; it’s on the spectrum of disease from MGUS to smoldering myeloma to myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And how is asymptomatic myeloma monitored?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, asymptomatic patients, I would consider those are the patients who have smoldering myeloma, so they don’t have the high calcium, the renal issues, anemia, or bone problems. And typically, those patients are followed up about every three to six months, depending on where they fit in kind of that spectrum of MGUS to smoldering myeloma to myeloma.  

Sometimes patients who have clinically identified myeloma and it presents very heterogeneous sometimes. They may not have a lot of organ involvement or organ damage, and maybe they’re frail, they’re elderly. And it may be appropriate also to observe patients who actually have some of the findings of myeloma, but the disease doesn’t seem to be as aggressive. 

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

What about consolidation therapy? What is that?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

Katherine Banwell:

And what about maintenance therapy?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for that. There are a number of treatments for myeloma patients. Can you talk about the types that are available? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah. So, the classes of – actually there is lots of drugs approved for treating myeloma but also recently approved.  

And we classify them into big categories. One of the categories is called immunomodulatory drugs – those are drugs like Revlimid and pomalidomide, or even thalidomide which was one of the first immunomodulatory drugs. Those are oral drugs that work on a specific pathway in the myeloma that leads to the myeloma cell dying. Another class of drugs are called proteasome inhibitors. Those include drugs like bortezomib or carfilzomib. Those drugs are often given under the skin or in the vein, and we know that they work really effectively on their own, but also when we combine them with an immunomodulatory drug like Revlimid or pomalidomide, the effect is even better. Another class is steroids. Steroids are kind of one of the first drugs used to treat this cancer, and steroids are effective at treating myeloma cells.   

Plasma cells are responsive to steroids. One of the first treatment regimens used to treat myeloma were traditional chemotherapies, and those are usually reserved for later on. You might think of traditional chemotherapy that causes hair loss, nausea, vomiting, low blood counts. Those, decades ago, were used to treat myeloma, but now we have effective oral, IV, or injection into the skin that don’t cause a lot of the traditional chemotherapy side effects but are very effective at treating the myeloma. And then another major class of drugs are considered immunotherapies. So, these are treatments that are engineered to either stimulate the immune system to go attack the myeloma, or maybe it’s even using part of your own immune system to engineer it to go attack the myeloma. 

Examples of those are called bispecific antibodies which kind of binds to the myeloma but binds to an immune cell, brings them together, or a CAR-T cell which takes your own T cells genetically modifies them to attack the cancer. 

Katherine Banwell:

And there is also a bone marrow transplant. Is that right? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

That’s right, yeah. I neglected – so, bone marrow transplant has been around for a while in myeloma. And despite it being around for so long and really good therapies being approved for myeloma, it’s still a standard treatment for myeloma. And bone marrow transplant in myeloma uses a traditional chemotherapy called melphalan that is associated with the chemotherapy side effects we talked about. But the advantage of bone marrow transplant is that it prolongs the time before the myeloma comes back and needs other treatments, and that’s why we do it. It can be toxic, but it can prolong the time before a patient needs another line of therapy.  

Katherine Banwell:

We know that everyone’s diagnosis is different. So, how do you determine a treatment plan for an individual patient? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, it depends in terms of the patient – initially, I will evaluate patients and determine how fit they are. Is it a patient that I think is strong enough to undergo a stem cell transplant? Is that going to be a benefit to them? That’s not necessarily a factor of just age, but it’s also, are they doing well functionally, or do they have any other medical problems like heart disease or kidney problems? Those things play into my decision on a treatment initially with patients. So, whether you’re fit or unfit will help to guide what your treatment is going to be in general. Fit patients are somebody that could undergo multiple treatments, go through a transplant, have minimal toxicity, and recover fully after more intensive treatments.  

Whereas, unfit may need more assistance, and we tend to reduce the intensity of treatments. It doesn’t mean the treatments, if you’re unfit, are less effective – they can be very effective. But our goals for treatment change in that situation. And we’re looking for responses but also looking for quality of life. And then it changes also depending on the genetics of the myeloma. Our treatment for patients who have genetic changes that are high risk will change compared to those that have what are called standard risk genetic changes.  

So, that is an important point to discuss with your oncologist if you have – Do I have standard risk or high-risk genetic changes in my cancer? And does that effect my treatment? And then also, treatment in somebody who is being treated a second time or third time or beyond for their myeloma depends on what treatments you had before and how effective they were.  

And what were your toxicities or side effects from those treatments? So, all those factors play into a decision of treatment for an individual.  

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great information. Let’s discuss what happens after treatment. How is the effectiveness of a treatment monitored? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

When you are initially diagnosed with myeloma, we will perform testing of blood. We look for that monoclonal protein or protein in the blood that is produced by the cancer cells. That protein level will be used to monitor the response of the cancer, and that’s a blood test – that’s called a serum protein electrophoresis. Also, initially, we’ll have x-rays of the bones, or it might be a CT scan or an MRI or PET scan that’s used to document if there is any bone damage. And oftentimes when we’re following up, we follow the bloodwork to look for reduction in that protein level.  

We may follow up additional x-rays to see if there are new areas in the bones that are damaged or if prior areas have responded to the treatment. And then oftentimes a bone marrow biopsy is used to document if you are in a complete remission which means that the protein we detected before or the cancer cells in the bone marrow cannot be detected after treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it essential for patients to share any symptoms or issues they may be having with their healthcare team during and after treatment? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, I mean, the treatments for multiple myeloma, they are typically continued in patients, and as we continue these treatments, side effects happen.  And as a physician, we can support patients through side effects. It may be as simple as adding a medicine to help with nausea. It may be modifying the dose of the treatments.  

So, it’s important to kind of monitor for things like, “I’m having a rash or diarrhea” or “I am getting nausea,” and letting us know right away. What the bad outcome would be if a patient is taking a medicine doesn’t let us know about side effects and decides to stop the medicine. Obviously, if you’re not taking a chemotherapy medicine, it’s not going to be effective to treat your cancer. That happens sometimes. So, having a good communication with your physician and your team of medical providers is important so that we can modify treatment. There are lots of alternatives for adjustments in the treatment that can be made that can be just as effective as the treatment you started on. 

Katherine Banwell:

So, communication is key. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yes. For sure, for sure. 

Katherine Banwell:

If treatment is successful, then when is a patient considered in remission? And what does remission mean? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Remission – there are gradients on remission in myeloma. And we can have a partial remission which means we kill about half of the cancer cells. We can have very good partial remissions, or we can have complete remissions. And those equate to the depth of response or how well the myeloma responded. Those are measured by bloodwork, bone marrow biopsy, and may be repeat imaging or x-rays. So, if you have a complete remission, that means, we can’t detect that protein in the blood that was detected before, or protein that was detected in the urine, and we can’t detect the cancer cells on a bone marrow biopsy. We know that the deeper your remission or response to treatment, that equates typically with a longer time before the cancer may come back or need other therapies.   

Myeloma is a type of cancer that tends to come back, so we have very effective therapies, and sometimes, these therapies can get the myeloma to a state that we can’t detect one in a million cancer cells, but it tends to come back. And so, complete remissions means that, “Yes, it’s a good chance that the myeloma is not going to come back for years for you, but you still need to be monitored. You’re not necessarily cured of the cancer.” 

Katherine Banwell:

Unfortunately, relapse can occur after treatment as you’ve been talking about. And sometimes, a patient’s disease doesn’t respond to therapy, and that’s called refractory disease. What are the indicators that a patient’s disease may have relapsed?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, so we would typically be following a patient about every three months. Somebody that has gone through the initial induction, consolidation, maybe they’re on maintenance therapy, or maybe they’re on active therapy for after they have relapsed from a myeloma. Each of those visits every three months, we are monitoring bloodwork, we’re monitoring the monoclonal protein that the myeloma produces.  

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

Katherine Banwell:

If a person is relapsed or refractory, how are they typically treated? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s a great idea. Thank you for that. What about emerging therapies for myeloma? What approaches are showing promise? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, I think the biggest news in myeloma, and across a lot of cancers now, are immunotherapies. We know in myeloma – now we have two CAR-T cells –  

Now a CAR-T cell is engineering your own immune cell called a T cell to express a receptor on its surface that binds to the myeloma, and then those immune cells go and kill the myeloma. That’s a form of immunotherapy.  

There’s two CAR-T cells for treating myeloma after the myeloma has come back four times, has needed four treatments. Those are very active in that line of therapy, and we can see response rates over 80 percent in patients who otherwise weren’t responding to other approved therapies for myeloma.  

On the other hand, there are other immunotherapies that are used earlier in the treatment course of myeloma. One that is not incorporated more frequently for the initial treatment is a drug called daratumumab – it’s an antibody. It’s a protein that binds to the surface of myeloma and stimulates the immune system to react against the myeloma. And so, it’s not a traditional chemotherapy, but it’s using your own immune system to attack the cancer.  

And then a third one that’s probably just as – it looks just as potentially effective as CAR-T cells are called bispecific antibodies. And that would use a protein similar to daratumumab which is an antibody, but it uses parts of antibodies to bind to – it could be two different proteins – one expressed on a T cell, the other one expressed on the myeloma cells. And when it binds, it brings those two cells together and causes your own immune system to attack the myeloma. Those are also very effective, and within the next month or two, there will be a bispecific antibody approved for treating patients with myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great news. Any others?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, well – I mean, the other potential – there are other immune cells called natural killer cells that are also in clinical trials for development to attack myeloma, and potentially even engineering those natural killer cells to attack myeloma.  

There are other antibodies; sometimes the antibodies of protein bind a specific target on the surface of the myeloma. I mentioned one – daratumumab – but there is a whole list of others that are in clinical development. The one other antibody – or two, couple of other antibodies that are approved for treating myeloma are isatuximab which also binds to CD38. And another one called elotuzumab which binds to a protein called CS1 or SLAMF7 on the surface of myeloma.  

That’s more information than you probably wanted or needed, but those antibody therapies can be very effective in treating myeloma. There is another antibody therapy that has a payload of a toxin on the antibody, and it binds to BCMA or B-cell maturation antigen.  

That’s the same antigen that the bispecific antibodies as well as the CAR-T cells are targeting on myeloma surface, and so that is potentially one that is approved by the FDA also to treat myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Let’s go to some audience questions. PEN community member, Mark, sent in this question prior to the program, “When is the right time for a clinical trial? When everything else is refractory?” 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

No, I think clinical trials should be – you should engage your oncologist to talk about clinical trials right from the beginning. We typically think about clinical studies – they could be interventional where we’re actually giving a treatment. Some clinical trials are observational where we’re trying to learn about disease course in response to traditional therapies. Either of those may have direct benefit to the patient, or maybe it doesn’t affect the patient, but it affects future patients with myeloma.  

There are clinical studies like I mentioned that are moving therapies that are approved, but they’re approved after patients have been treated four or five times for their myeloma, and they’re now being moved earlier in the treatment. Some of those are at the initial treatment of myeloma in that induction phase. And so, we think that maybe by using some of these newer therapies or that immunotherapy class earlier on in the treatment of myeloma could result in deeper responses. We don’t know if it’s going to result in cures or that long remission beyond five or 10 years, but that’s the hope. If we can move the therapies earlier and prevent the cancer from becoming resistant to multiple treatments, maybe we can lead to longer remissions and longer survival of cancer patients. So, engage with your oncologist from the beginning through all of your treatment lines about clinical trials, is what I would say.  

Katherine Banwell:

Well, how can patients find out about clinical trials and what might be right for them? Where should they start?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

I mean, starting with your physician and having that conversation is a good start, but there are resources for patients. The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation MMRF has good resources. There is a – called Myeloma Crowd that also has resources for patients with myeloma and social support for patients with myeloma to try to find and match you with a clinical trial. And then if you’re really academic and interested in doing your own homework online, all clinical studies in the United States, even internationally, are registered on a website called clinicaltrials.gov. Clinicaltrials.gov is – it can be searched, so you can search for myeloma; you can search for a specific drug.  

That will tell you, where are the studies being done, who are the study personnel, who should I contact to find out about the study? Unfortunately, not everybody can travel for treatment for their myeloma, and the best chance of potentially participating in a research study is to initially talk with your oncologist about it. There may be a larger center nearby that you can visit to consider clinical trials.  

Clinical trials that are trying to use the new immunotherapies would be a great option, but they may not be offered in, say, a community oncology practice. You have to have the infrastructure to conduct those studies. And if you have the resources to be able to travel, then finding something on clinicaltrials.gov and – I’ve had patients do the legwork and talk with their local oncologist and get referred to a center that actually has a study that they’re interested in participating.  

But a lot of times, studies are going to have you visit the center for all the screening tests and all the procedures for study. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right, so you have to know that you have the time available as well as the resources. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Right, and the resources to do it. Yeah.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Trevor had this question, Dr. Schroeder, “My myeloma is considered high-risk. What treatment options are available to me, and are there clinical trials specifically for high-risk disease?” 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, great question. High-risk myeloma happens in about a quarter of patients, so one in four patients will have high-risk myeloma at the diagnosis. And it’s important because we know that when we say high-risk, that means that the myeloma is going to potentially come back sooner after treatments. It doesn’t mean that the treatment you’re going to be given is less effective, but it has a high propensity to come back sooner.  

Those patients with high-risk myeloma still benefit from a lot of treatments that we have for myeloma, but there are clinical trials geared to try and increase treatment in patients with high-risk myeloma to try to change the fact that their cancer comes back sooner than somebody who doesn’t have the high-risk features by using a novel chemotherapies or novel drugs to try to improve responses. So, there are for sure clinical studies, either at – potentially at initial diagnosis or at the time of relapse that could be entertained for patients with high-risk myeloma. And I would encourage you to seek those out for sure.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Great. Thank you. And please continue to send in your questions to questions@powerfulpatients.org, and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs. As we close out our conversation, Dr. Shroeder, I wanted to get your take on the future of myeloma. What makes you hopeful? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Well, I am hopeful – just within the last five years, there have been a number of new drugs approved for myeloma. They are approved for later lines of therapy, but they are being moved earlier in the treatment. And within the last 10-20 years, we’ve seen an improvement in the survival of patients with myeloma. As these new therapies are in development, as they’re being moved earlier in the treatment line, I’m very hopeful that survival and potentially cure for this cancer is possible. The only way that we’re going to get to that point is through clinical research and for patients to partner with their physicians and to consider clinical trials because that is the only way that new drugs get approved and are available to other patients with myeloma. So, I’m excited about what is approved; I’m excited about what’s coming through the pipeline to treat myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Schroeder, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

You’re welcome, Katherine. It was a pleasure.  

Katherine Banwell:

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