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Is Myeloma Research Examining Sequencing of CAR T and Bispecifics?

Is Myeloma Research Examining Sequencing of CAR T and Bispecifics? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the sequencing of CAR T-cell therapy and bispecific antibodies being examined in myeloma studies? Expert Dr. Ola Landgren from University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center discusses what’s known about sequencing of CAR T and bispecifics and what needs further study in clinical trials.

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

So with both CAR T and some of the bispecifics approved, obviously if a patient comes in and they need something right away, they’ll take whatever is first available. But all things being equal, if a patient says, well, I can, I have both CAR T accessible and bispecifics accessible. There are some patients out there, I’ve spoken with some who are wondering, is there a benefit to sequencing one before the other, or are there any trials looking into that?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

There are studies that have allowed patients to go on treatment with one of these modalities. For example, the bispecific antibodies with the prior exposure to a CAR T-cell therapy. There are also trials with CAR T-cell therapy that has allowed patients who have been exposed to prior antibodies, either bispecifics or the conjugated antibody drug conjugates, Belantamab mafodotin. So if you look at those studies and see how the numbers compare, if you are not exposed or you are exposed, I think the data is not entirely clear-cut.

There is no definitive study. Some data suggests that maybe it’s not that different, but then there are some studies that suggest that if you go to the antibody first that maybe that would lower the efficacy of the CAR T cell. So some people have for that reason said the CAR T cell should be done first. To make it even more complicated, there are some studies that have then taken time into the equation. So that means that you could have the patient treated with the antibodies for BCMA and CD3, and the antibody is given successfully for a long time, for many years. And eventually, unfortunately, the antibody may stop working.

Now, if you switch back to back to a CAR T-cell therapy without any other therapy in between, some studies indicate that that’s less likely to be beneficial. But if you instead do another target, say you did GPRC5D/CD3, or you did a completely different therapy with small molecules or you did carfilzomib (Kyprolis), or you did venetoclax (Venclexta), or IMiDs, or different types of combinations that are out there, been around for a long time, and you get good mileage out of those combinations.

Now, if that stops working, if you now go to this other therapy, you go back to the CAR T cell, that will suggest that the results are not that different. So I think that there are aspects that we don’t fully understand. I personally believe, based on what I’ve seen, based on what I know from treating thousands of patients with myeloma for almost 30 years I’ve been a doctor, I think time is probably very, very important. So if you go back to back from one therapy to the other, that’s less likely to be beneficial. If you go from one therapy, and it stops working and go to the other drug with the same target.

But I would say it’s not that different from how we think about IMiDs or proteasome inhibitors. If you were to go single drug with a proteasome inhibitor and you switch to single drug with another proteasome inhibitor, or the same thing with an IMiD, that’s less likely to work versus if you went to something else in between. So we just need to generate more data and learn. Lastly, I want to say that in my experience, from all I see in my clinic at the current time, I think the choice that patients make is based on personal preference and to some degree also the situation of the patient. I saw a patient yesterday, 50 years old, who came from another country and has relocated to us here in Miami and asked, what are the options?

And we talked about CAR T cells, we talked about bispecifics. And considering all the different factors that CAR T cell would imply that we had to give some other combination therapy for two or three cycles while we harvest the CAR T cells and manufacture the CAR T cells and then plan for the admission and give it, and also that the patient was not really very happy about the side effects in the hospital with CAR T cell. That patient shows the bispecific, but I’ve also seen other patients in the same situation saying, I’d rather do these different steps for two or three months, I stay in the hospital, and then I enjoy being off therapy.

Actually, I saw another patient just a few days ago, a gentleman in his upper 70s who we had the same conversation, and he had picked the CAR T cells. And I saw him with his wife and he has been off treatment for two years doing excellent. So different patients make different decisions. And I think that is just how the field is evolving. So I think we should be open to individual patient’s priorities and what they want, and we should just offer everything. And of course, we can guide if a patient wants us to give direction, but I think presenting it and let patients be part of the decision-making, that’s the future of how medicine should be practiced.


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Personalized Medicine for Myeloma Treatment | What Patients Should Know

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

What is personalized medicine, and how can myeloma patients access this type of care? Myeloma expert Dr. Omar Nadeem defines personalized medicine and shares how test results can impact myeloma care and treatment options.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Well, Dr. Nadeem, we’ve been hearing the term personalized medicine more frequently in recent years. How would you define personalized medicine for myeloma, and how can patients access this type of care?  

Dr. Nadeem:

Yeah, personalized medicine or precision medicine is a term that we’ve really sort of used for many oncologic conditions over the last decade or so. I would say, for multiple myeloma, in terms of identifying a target within the myeloma cell that’s unique to the patient. 

And then deploying a certain therapy to that patient because of that target is still lacking. We do have one example where patients have, for example, an 11;14 translocation, which we see in about 15 percent of myeloma patients.  

There’s an agent called venetoclax (Venclexta) that is very active against that particular cohort of patients, although that is still not approved to be used, but that’s one example where that agent specifically benefits that type of myeloma. Other than that, most of the therapies that we have benefit essentially everybody with myeloma, which is great, but it’s not so personalized.  

Where I would say there’s the most personalization happening now, at least in my practice, is looking at which types of therapies an individual patient may receive. What I mean by that is if somebody’s in an excellent response, with quadruplet-based induction therapy, I have a very real discussion with them about the pros and cons of stem cell transplant.  

We make those decisions in real time depending on how the patient doing, depending on how their response is.  

And then kind of deciding a whole kind of what are the kind of risks and benefits and what makes sense for that individual patient. Similarly, when you go on to maintenance therapy, maintenance therapy means that after you’ve gone through the initial phase of your myeloma therapy and the disease is under control, what type of therapy can we keep you on to keep it under control for as long as possible? Historically, that has been lenalidomide or Revlimid. Now we’re adding drugs such as daratumamab (Darzalex) and other agents to Revlimid to see if that can further prolong the response to that initial therapy.  

So, all those decisions are so individualized that you have to discuss with your provider what makes sense for you and what are the pros and cons of doing one approach versus the other.   

Katherine:

Well, if we’re talking about in-depth testing, how do the results of that testing affect treatment options? 

Dr. Nadeem:

So, right now we use conventional blood tests to get a sense of response in the vast majority of patients. That includes the serum protein electrophoresis and the serum free light chain assay.  

Most patients have detectable levels of these proteins, abnormal proteins in the blood at diagnosis and then you can follow them using a blood test. There’s a subset of patients that have disease only that shows up on scans. So, we then kind of incorporate some of those scans and then, also, utilize the bone marrow results both in the beginning and in subsequent analyses to kind of give a big-picture composite response assessment for that particular patient. Nowadays, there are also other tools that we’re using, such as MRD, or minimal residual disease.  

That is a test that is done on a bone marrow biopsy to determine, if you don’t have detectable protein in the blood, do you have myeloma cells present at the deepest level possible? And if you do versus if you don’t, trials have shown that there is a difference in terms of prognosis. Now, while that hasn’t fully been utilized yet to make treatment decisions in patients that are not on clinical trials, we do get prognostic information out of it, and nowadays, more and more of those trials are using these MRD tests to determine what to do with treatment.  

And I think that’s how it’s going to be in the future. So, having those extra tests available but, again, important to discuss with your provider what is the utility of this test. How are we going to use this information for your individual case to make some decisions? 

Myeloma Patient Expert Q&A: Dr. Ola Landgren

Myeloma Patient Expert Q&A: Dr. Ola Landgren from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

START HERE bridges the gap between expert and patient voices, empowering myeloma patients to feel comfortable asking precise questions of their healthcare team.

In this webinar, Dr. Ola Landgren delves into the emerging and exciting therapies and clinical trials for myeloma, discusses the latest options for relapsed disease, and explores the current landscape of managing and monitoring multiple myeloma. Watch as Dr. Landgren answers patient-submitted questions and discusses another hot topic: the utilization of artificial intelligence in multiple myeloma.

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

Hello, and welcome. My name is Lisa Hatfield, your host for this Patient Empowerment Network START HERE program where we bridge the expert and patient voice to enable you and me to feel comfortable asking questions of our healthcare teams. The world is complicated, but understanding your multiple myeloma doesn’t have to be. The goal of this program is to create actionable pathways for getting the most out of myeloma treatment and survivorship.

Today I am honored and really excited to be joined by Dr. Ola Landgren. Dr. Landgren is chief in the Division of Myeloma and the Department of Medicine, and also serves as director of the Sylvester Myeloma Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Landgren, it’s such a pleasure having you today.

Dr. Ola Landgren:

Thank you very much for having me. It’s really a great pleasure to be here today.

Lisa Hatfield:

So in this program, first, we’ll get a high level update from Dr. Landgren on what the latest myeloma news means for you and your family. And then we will launch into some questions that we’ve received from you. Dr. Landgren. We’re at a pivotal moment in the history of multiple myeloma. We’re experiencing an unprecedented wave of progress marked by significant increase in new treatment options and ongoing research. We are very honored to have your expertise to guide us in understanding these advancements and providing clarity around all the evolving landscape of myeloma care.

So before we get started, to you at home, would you please remember to download the program resource guide via the QR code. This is where you’ll find useful information to follow before the program and after. So we are ready to START HERE. Dr. Landgren, can you speak to the emerging and exciting myeloma therapies and trials right now?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

I’ll do my best. There are so many things to talk about, and I don’t think we have 10 hours, so I will have to shorten it. But I would say that the past 12 to 18 months, we have had three new drugs approved in the field of myeloma. These are the bispecific antibodies. The first out of those three was the BCMA-CD3 targeted drug teclistamab-cqyv (Tecvayli). And in the middle of 2023, we had both talquetamab-tgvs (Talvey), and elranatamab-bcmm (Elrexfio) approved. Talquetamab has another target is GPRC5D with CD3. And elranatamab is similar to teclistamab with the BCMA-CD3 targeted bispecific antibody. These are amazing drugs. They have been found in patients that have been heavily pretreated to result in about 60 percent or more percent of patients responding.

So overall response rates ranging from 60 percent to 80 percent in various trials. We have now these drugs approved, they’re still only approved as single drug and there are new trials going, combinations of two of these or these drugs with other drugs such as daratumumab (Darzalex) or IMiDs, such as lenalidomide (Revlimid) or pomalidomide (Pomalyst). So a lot of drug development is ongoing as we speak. We also have the CAR T cells that are reasonably new drugs. We, you think about everything new every week there’s a new drug, but they are very new CAR T cells.

We have had them for about three or so years, three-and-a-half years. And, the two drugs that are approved in that setting is, ide-cel (idecabtagene vicleucel) [Abecma]. That was the first and then cilta-cel (ciltacabtagene autoleucel) [Carvykti], that was the second. They both go after BCMA similar to the two antibodies I mentioned, teclistamab and elranatamab because they are CAR T cells, that indicates that they are cells.

They come from the same person who’s going to receive them back as treatment. So you collect the cells from the blood and you manufacture them into to CAR cells. So chimeric antigen receptor T cells, and then you give them back. There are several new CAR T-cells in development. There are other targets in development, GPRC5D, for example. There are additional other targets and there are also dual targeted cell therapies in development.

There are also allogeneic CAR T cells in development and that means that you could have a product off the shelf. So someone could donate cells, they could be manufactured into CAR T cells, and then you could give them to technically any person, so it doesn’t have to be the same person collecting and then manufacturing, giving them back. So that would shorten the time window for production.

And there are a lot of other details also that are important in this context. The whole manufacturing process that’s currently four to six weeks is being improved. There are some technologies that can make the CAR T cells in 48 hours, but the turnaround time is maybe one to two weeks with all the control steps, but that’s still a huge improvement. And then you have the antibody drug conjugate if you want.

So then you have the belantamab mafodotin (Blenrep). That actually was the first BCMA targeted therapy we had in myeloma. And then the drug was approved on an accelerated approval study. But when the randomized study was completed, it turned out that it was not better than the control arm. The company took it off the market. And now what’s happening is that there are two new trials, and one of them was just reported in the beginning of February of 2024.

The other one was around the ASH meeting in 2023. These two trials show that if you combine it with other drugs, the most recent one was with bortezomib-dexamethasone (Velcade-Decadron), that was superior with the belantamab mafodotin with bortezomib-dexamethasone versus daratumumab with bortezomib-dexamethasone. So I think we will probably see this drug coming back to the myeloma field. It is currently available as compassionate use, so physicians can prescribe it, but these trials will most likely, I would think, lead to FDA approvals with these combinations.

And lastly, I would say that other exciting trials, there are so many trials going on, but another thing that I think is interesting and exciting is also the use of antigens. And you can use mRNA and things like that. So these are like the vaccines. You can either, take a patients’ myeloma cells and look what they have on the surface, you can make more traditional vaccines or you can use more sophisticated newer technologies just like how the COVID vaccines were developed. And you can inject these sequences and then they will translate into spike proteins where the immune system could go after myeloma cells.

We don’t yet have a product like that in the myeloma field, but there are a lot of biotech and groups that are working to see. Moderna, was actually initially a cancer vaccine company and then COVID came and they turned into a COVID company, and now they’re be back again in the cancer field. So that’s a little bit of a summary of a lot of the exciting news that’s out there.

Lisa Hatfield:

Thank you. And do you have any comments about the sequencing of some of these? So with both CAR T and some of the bispecifics approved, obviously if a patient comes in and they need something right away, they’ll take whatever is first available. But all things being equal, if a patient says, well, I can, I have both CAR T accessible and bispecifics accessible. There are some patients out there, I’ve spoken with some who are wondering, is there a benefit to sequencing one before the other, or are there any trials looking into that?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

There are studies that have allowed patients to go on treatment with one of these modalities. For example, the bispecific antibodies with the prior exposure to a CAR T-cell therapy. There are also trials with CAR T-cell therapy that has allowed patients who have been exposed to prior antibodies, either bispecifics or the conjugated antibody drug conjugates, Belantamab mafodotin. So if you look at those studies and see how the numbers compare, if you are not exposed or you are exposed, I think the data is not entirely clear-cut.

There is no definitive study. Some data suggests that maybe it’s not that different, but then there are some studies that suggest that if you go to the antibody first that maybe that would lower the efficacy of the CAR T cell. So some people have for that reason said the CAR T cell should be done first. To make it even more complicated, there are some studies that have then taken time into the equation. So that means that you could have the patient treated with the antibodies for BCMA and CD3, and the antibody is given successfully for a long time, for many years. And eventually, unfortunately, the antibody may stop working.

Now, if you switch back to back to a CAR T-cell therapy without any other therapy in between, some studies indicate that that’s less likely to be beneficial. But if you instead do another target, say you did GPRC5D/CD3, or you did a completely different therapy with small molecules or you did carfilzomib (Kyprolis), or you did venetoclax (Venclexta), or IMiDs, or different types of combinations that are out there, been around for a long time, and you get good mileage out of those combinations.

Now, if that stops working, if you now go to this other therapy, you go back to the CAR T cell, that will suggest that the results are not that different. So I think that there are aspects that we don’t fully understand. I personally believe, based on what I’ve seen, based on what I know from treating thousands of patients with myeloma for almost 30 years I’ve been a doctor, I think time is probably very, very important. So if you go back to back from one therapy to the other, that’s less likely to be beneficial. If you go from one therapy, and it stops working and go to the other drug with the same target.

But I would say it’s not that different from how we think about IMiDs or proteasome inhibitors. If you were to go single drug with a proteasome inhibitor and you switch to single drug with another proteasome inhibitor, or the same thing with an IMiD, that’s less likely to work versus if you went to something else in between. So we just need to generate more data and learn. Lastly, I want to say that in my experience, from all I see in my clinic at the current time, I think the choice that patients make is based on personal preference and to some degree also the situation of the patient. I saw a patient yesterday, 50 years old, who came from another country and has relocated to us here in Miami and asked, what are the options?

And we talked about CAR T cells, we talked about bispecifics. And considering all the different factors that CAR T cell would imply that we had to give some other combination therapy for two or three cycles while we harvest the CAR T cells and manufacture the CAR T cells and then plan for the admission and give it, and also that the patient was not really very happy about the side effects in the hospital with CAR T cell. That patient shows the bispecific, but I’ve also seen other patients in the same situation saying, I’d rather do these different steps for two or three months, I stay in the hospital, and then I enjoy being off therapy.

Actually, I saw another patient just a few days ago, a gentleman in his upper 70s who we had the same conversation, and he had picked the CAR T cells. And I saw him with his wife and he has been off treatment for two years doing excellent. So different patients make different decisions. And I think that is just how the field is evolving. So I think we should be open to individual patient’s priorities and what they want, and we should just offer everything. And of course, we can guide if a patient wants us to give direction, but I think presenting it and let patients be part of the decision-making, that’s the future of how medicine should be practiced.

Lisa Hatfield:

Thank you so much for that explanation. I’m going to segue into a comment that I always make to myeloma patients. As Dr. Landgren was explaining all of these treatment options, he is on top of all the latest and greatest news and therapies. I always recommend to myeloma patients newly diagnosed or otherwise to seek out at least one consult from a specialist. If you have difficulty accessing care, then a lot of places can do video conferencing, but even that one consult to see a myeloma specialist is so important in your care and treatment options. So I’ll just throw that out there, Dr. Landgren, as a myeloma specialist that you are, we appreciate your expertise in explaining that so well.

Dr. Ola Landgren:

I agree 100 percent with what you said, and I would like to add to that and say, going to a specialist center and it doesn’t have to be here, can really really help. It can be a lot of small things. There is data indicating that survival is longer for patients who have access to specialists. That has been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The Mayo Clinic has published that, I think it was more than one year longer survival.

That by itself is, of course, very strong, but I also think that there are a lot of the small things like the different types of pre-medications, the drugs that are given around myeloma drugs. Could you decrease the dose of some of these drugs like the dexamethasone? Could you get rid of Benadryl if you give the antibodies? These may look as small things, but they can make a huge difference for quality of life.

We have a lot of people coming for second opinions, and we always say if you live closer to someone that you trust, you should go back and be treated there. You can always reach out to us. We are happy to be involved. You have us as a backup. We can be your quarterback if you ever need us. I think that is absolutely the best advice for every patient. Go and get feedback and if you’re not sure about the feedback you get, you could always have two different quarterbacks and you could ask them. I don’t think having 10 or 20 is going to help, but having one or two second opinions, I think is a good decision.

Lisa Hatfield:

That’s really helpful information, thank you, Dr. Landgren. So I think we’re going to shift a little bit to managing and monitoring multiple myeloma. Once you’ve had a patient go through the induction therapy, what kind of monitoring do you complete for your myeloma patients and in particular those who have reached a certain level response and are maybe on maintenance or continuous therapy, what type of tests do you do and how often regarding labs, imaging, bone marrow biopsies?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

There are a lot of different ways, obviously, of practicing medicine. So every center has developed models that they feel very comfortable doing. So I like details. I like to know things. I like to check things. I’m not excessive in ordering invasive tests, but I like to know. Also, I like to make sure the patient not only has good long-term clinical outcomes, but also good quality of life. And to me, I try to minimize the intrusiveness of what we do. So, for example, if I give a combination therapy where there is an injection or infusion, say week one, week two, week three, and then there is a week off. I recognize that if you do labs during that week off, you will have a better yield and understanding of how these three different injections or infusions actually have moved the disease forward and suppressed the disease.

But in my mind, I think that week off is a very important week off for the patient. So I would rather do testing the third day of the treatment at the treatment unit. So if it’s week one, week two, week three, I would draw the myeloma labs that same day. And that would give the patient six more days off from injection, infusion that third week and the whole fourth week off. So I would give the patient 13 days off.

Again, these are small things. These are things I’ve thought about a lot. I’ve practiced medicine for many years and I recognize that having time off like that, many patients travel, they go on vacation, they do different things. So I don’t want to just randomly put a blood test in the fourth week just because I want to check after week one, two, three, and then have the assessment.

I sort of underestimate the benefit of the therapy and then I start the next cycle, say back to back cycle two and cycle three and so forth. I would typically do blood tests once a month following these principles. I do baseline and I would do the last day of injection or infusion. For a newly diagnosed patient, you ask me, I would for baseline always do bone marrow biopsy and an aspirate. I would always do a PET-CT for every patient as my default. Sometimes we end up doing MRI. So that could be other things that are happening, but that is what we do for the majority of our patients.

After we have completed four to six cycles of treatment for patients that are candidates for consideration of transplant with chemotherapy with melphalan (Alkeran), we would usually do a biopsy after four to six cycles and we would use that to determine what’s the optimal mobilization protocol for stem cells. When we do that, we would run a MRD test.

We would run our in-house flow cytometry test that we developed when I used to work at Sloan Kettering and we have developed that here in Miami as well. We work closely with Sloan Kettering, and we have set up this assay in collaboration in the new 2.0 version. We will also send the aspirate for the clonoSEQ at Adaptive Biotech, which is the DNA-based sequencing for MRD. We would send the patient for collection of stem cells.

When the patient is back, we will continue treating. So if you say we do it after four cycles, we would collect, if we do it after five or six, then we collect. After that, we would typically resume therapy and for the majority of our patients, we actually give around eight cycles of therapy, and we have seen that you can deepen the response. You don’t increase the toxicity, but you deepen the response for the vast, vast majority of our patients. When we have used our best therapies, we have done it that way…

We have even published on this, over 70 percent of our patients are MRD negative, and many of those patients, when they come to cycle eight, they ask, do I have to do the transplant? And that is a controversial topic. But I think there are two large randomized trials that have shown the same thing, that there is no survival benefit with transplant. But you can also say that there is, in those two trials, a progression free survival benefit, meaning that the disease would stay way longer with transplant.

But many patients say, if I reach MRD-negative, both those two trials show that if you’re MRD-negative without transplant, or you’re MRD-negative with the transplant, PFS was actually the same. And given that there is no survival, overall survival benefit, why would I subject myself to go to that? Why don’t I keep the cells in the freezer and go right to maintenance? And we will have a conversation with every patient, they would meet our transplant team, they would meet our myeloma expert team.

And the individual patient will make decisions. I think over time, more and more patients have chosen to keep the cells in the freezer. For patients that are MRD-positive, we would counsel towards transplant, but there are patients that don’t want to do that, and we are not forcing any patients to do that. We would give patient maintenance, and on some of our trials, we use the standard of care, which is lenalidomide maintenance.

And we are also developing new approaches where we have done daratumumab added once a month with lenalidomide. We have gone one year, and we have started to do two years of that. And after that, we would stop daratumumab and just do lenalidomide maintenance. Lastly, to answer your question fully here, we would do a PET-CT in the bone marrow after the eight cycles as a repeat, and we would offer a patient to check on maintenance on an annual basis, and this is in accord with the NCCN guidelines. So a lot of details here, but you asked me how we do testing.

Lisa Hatfield:

Yes. And one of the questions that comes up, too, regarding bone marrow biopsy, so you talked about patients kind of through the process of myeloma treatment, perhaps they’ve reached a point where they’re going to be for a while. Do you see a need for continued bone marrow biopsy, say, annually, or is there some benefit to using the newer tests that are being investigated, like mass spec testing and some of the newer ones, I think the EuroFlow? Do you think that that can be used to test for bone marrow biopsy? And how will that be used to monitor the myeloma if a patient is doing relatively well, or do you still like to do bone marrow biopsies on a regular basis? And I know every specialist is different in how they’ll answer that question.

Dr. Ola Landgren:

So what’s known in the literature is that there is no study that definitively has compared annual biopsies with these blood-based tests that you mentioned, showing that they can replace the bone marrow. Those tests or those studies have not yet been published and shown in a convincing way that we have done. This is how it is. It’s still an open question. We don’t know the answer for sure. So our take has been to offer patients to repeat it on an annual basis for maybe two or three and sometimes up to five years. I don’t think we would do biopsies every year for five, 10, 15 or more years. At some point, you have to ask yourself, what are we trying to chase here?

But I think the data we’re looking at that we have published on this and others have also show that if you are MRD-negative after completion of the eight cycles with or without the transplant, the patient that are MRD-negative one year later, they are more likely to be free from progression 10 years later, compared to the ones where you only check once and you don’t know what happened one year later. And that is frankly because there is a small group of patients where MRD-negative could bounce back into positive.

So to check after completion after eight cycles and to check after one more year on maintenance, I think gives us more confidence in thinking about if we eventually could step down and maybe even stop the maintenance at the long term. There is no study that definitively has proven that, but the data suggests that being negative after eight and do another year and even if you do two years out, those are very strong indicators that the disease will stay away long term.

So that’s our justification for offering it, but we would never force any patient. And I also want to say that we have thought about for a long time, how we can contribute to the field and how we can advance the field for blood-based tests. So we are here in Miami, developing a lot of these technologies, and I have made a promise that we will make all these available for all patients that come here to Miami as part of our standard workup. Because they are not clinically validated tests, they will have to be reported for now as research tests, but we will share the information with individual patients.

So we have three different platforms for now. And we are working on the fourth one. So one of them is the mass spec with MALDI, where we can screen the blood with lasers. And we can increase the sensitivity by maybe hundred times compared to existing immunofixation assays. The second is something called clonotypic peptides, which is a more sophisticated way to run mass spec, which is probably up to thousand times more sensitive than immunofixation. And the third technology we are doing or setting up right now is circulating cells that we sequence.

And this is the Menarini technology that is approved for certain other solid tumors. I think for GI malignancies, it’s FDA cleared, but we are doing it in myeloma. We are also looking for free circulating DNA. We’re working with New York Genome Center to set those types of assays up. So my thinking is, if we can offer every patient that come here to do it, and many of those patients will do an annual biopsy, we actually will have the database that can answer the question you asked me, if it can replace. There is no other way that this can ever be answered.

But having a large database, we actually can compare on a patient level, how the bone marrow biopsy with flow cytometry and sequencing, how that behaves in relation to the blood base. How does it perform? Is any of these better? Can they replace each other? So I think if we do this for one or two years, we will have the answer to the question. That’s why I want to do it.

Lisa Hatifeld:

So that kind of leads to the next question that is really an exciting area. I know it’s not necessarily new, but newer is artificial intelligence.  And I know I was reading an article about one of, that you and your colleagues have worked on a newer project and I don’t know if you pronounce it IRMMa or not, but using these large databases to help predict I think, it’s the response of treatment in some patients. So can you talk about that a little bit and tell us about that development and what developments are exciting with artificial intelligence in cancer, in particular myeloma?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

Yeah. So you mentioned the study we just published. We published a model that we call IRMMa and that stands for individual risk prediction for patients with multiple myeloma. So what we were thinking was at the current time, all the existing models are pretty much providing the average patient’s predicted outcome. So think about it is like it’s a probability measure. So you say, if I take this about therapy, what’s the predicted average outcome for patients that take this therapy, say, five years later? So on average, say 70 percent of patients are free from progression. That sounds pretty good. The problem is that you don’t know if you are in the group, 70 percent group that didn’t progress or if you’re in the 30 percent that did progress.

So where are you as an individual? So it’s almost like looking at the weather app on your phone. If it says it’s a 70 percent probability of sunshine and then you go outside and it’s raining, it’s because it didn’t say that it’s 100 percent probability of sunshine. So if you think about another situation would be, say, in a GYN clinic, if a woman were to come and ask the doctor, am I pregnant? Yes or no? You couldn’t say it’s 70 percent probability. You would say, yes, you’re pregnant or not pregnant.

So for myeloma, we have for a long time been living in these weather report systems where we say 70 percent or 30 percent. And we want to go in the other direction of the pregnancy test, where we actually can say for someone with this particular disease profile, with this treatment, this is where this is going to take us. We worked on this project for almost four years and we worked with a lot of other groups around the world that have a lot of data. And they have graciously agreed to collaborate with us and share their data sets. The beauty with this collaboration, there are many beauties of it, but one of them is that people don’t treat patients the same way.

And that actually has allowed us to say for patients that have a particular biological or genomic makeup, if you’re treated this way or that way or the other way or a fourth way and so forth, which of these different treatments would make patients have the longest progression and overall survival? So if you have a large database, you can actually ask those questions. So you can say that you profile individual patients in full detail and you put them in detailed buckets instead of grouping everybody together.

And now if you add a new case, if a new patient is being added and you say, which bucket would this individual fit? Well, this is the right biological bucket. You can then use this database to say out of all the different treatment options, which treatment option would last the longest, which would give the best overall survival? Other questions you could ask is also, for example, you have a patient with a certain biological workup or makeup. And you say, if I treat with these drugs, will the addition of, say, transplant, will that prolong progression for his survival?

And you can go into the database and the computer will then say, I have these many patients that have this genomic makeup and these many people that were treated with this treatment with transplant versus the same treatment without transplant. There was no difference in their progression or overall survival. So then the computer would say, it doesn’t add any clinical benefit, but there could be another makeup where the answer is opposite, but transplant actually would provide longer progression for his survival. I think the whole field of medicine is probably going to go more and more in this direction. So what we want to do is to expand the number of cases.

So we are asking other groups around the world, if they have data sets with thousands of patients, they could be added to this database and we could then have more and more detailed information on sub types of disease and more and more treatment. So it will be better as we train it with larger data sets. The model is built as an open interface so we can import new data. And that’s also important because the treatments will continue to change. So we, for example, say I have a patient that has this genetic makeup. I was thinking of using a bispecific antibody for the newly diagnosed setting.

How is that going to work? The computer will say, I don’t know, because we don’t have any patients like that in the database because that’s not the data, type of data that currently exists from larger studies. But let’s say in the future, if there were datasets like that, you could ask the computer and the computer will tell you what the database finds as the answer. But if you go for another combination, if that’s in the database, it would answer that too. That is where I think the field is going.

And lastly, I would say we are also using these types of technologies to evaluate the biopsies, the material. We work with the HealthTree Foundation on a large project where we are trying to use computational models to get out a lot of the biological data out of the biopsies and also to predict outcomes. So I think artificial intelligence is going to come in so many different areas in the myeloma field and probably in many, many other fields in medicine.

Lisa Hatfield:

Thank you so much, Dr. Landgren, for that broad overview of myeloma, especially relapsed and refractory myeloma. So it’s that time now where we answer questions we’ve received from you. Please remember that this is not a substitute for medical care. Always consult with your medical team. And we’re going to jump right into some questions that we’ve received from patients, Dr. Landgren, if you have a little bit of time to answer these questions for us.

Dr. Ola Landgren:

Of course.

Lisa Hatfield:

Okay. So broad questions. We try to make them broad so they apply to most people, but this patient is asking Dr. Landgren, what are the key biological processes driving disease, progression and evolution of multiple myeloma, and how can we target these processes to prevent disease relapse and improve long-term outcome?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

So that’s a very good question. So I think in a nutshell if you use genomics, which refers to the genetic changes that you can see in the plasma cells, there are certain features that the myeloma cells have. They have the copy number changes, that’s the gains and losses of chromosomes. You can find these if you do FISH and cytogenetics could be, for example, gain of chromosome 5 or gain of chromosome 7 or gain of chromosome 11. That would be part of the Hyperdiploidy disease, or you have loss of chromosome 13 or 13q deletions. We also refer to 17p deletion. These are copy number changes, they’re extra or loss of these chromosomes. But then you have also the structural variance where you have the translocations of chromosome 14, chromosome 14 harbors the IGH locus, which regulates the making of immunoglobulins.

Plasma cells make immunoglobulins. For reasons that are not entirely clear. The translocations in myeloma that include IgH, they are partnering up with oncogenes. There is a list of oncogenes, there’s MATH, there’s three MATHs, A, B, C. There’s FGFR3, MMSET, and there’s also Cyclin D1 that are on the list. So these are the different types of structural variants that you can see with FISH probes.

What people have understood less about are something called mutational signatures. And myeloma is made up by eight distinct mutational signatures that you can see in every single patient. And what that means is that you can, if you conduct whole genome sequencing and you look at all the base pairs, you can see there are certain number of combinations. C can be swapped for A and C can be swapped for G or C can be swapped for T, T can be A and T can be C and T can also be G.

Those are the combinations. So there are four different base pairs, but if you, because the DNA is double stranded, these are the only possibilities that mathematically that you can see. Now if you look for every base pair and you look on one base pair on the left and one on the right, we call that 5 and 3 prime, you look through triplicates, every of these base pairs can have these different swaps I mentioned. Mathematically, there are 96 different combinations that you can come up with. That’s it.

If you don’t go through the entire genome from left to right, you see that there are these recurrent eight signatures that are there in every patient. So although we don’t understand why they are and exactly how they function, the fact that you see them in every patient tells us that this has to have something to do with the biology of the disease. It must have a role in the control of the disease. We are starting to see that there is one signature that’s called APOBEC. That signature seems to be very important for resistance to treatments. And you can see that APOBEC can be more or less expressed.

And if APOBEC is very expressed, we see that there are lot of mutations in the cells. We have seen in patients with the chemotherapy that APOBEC can be very expressed. When we treat with four drug combinations, it can be very expressed. And what I’m saying, when I say it can be expressed, these are in the patients that relapse out of these therapies. We have also seen that in CAR T cells and bispecifics. So that makes me believe and our group believe that the cells use some form of what we call tumor intrinsic defense mechanism to protect themselves from whatever therapy we use.

It doesn’t matter if it’s immunotherapy, chemotherapy or small molecule therapy, there are some fundamental programs the cells can turn on. We need to understand that better and we are spending a lot of time trying to drill into this.

Lastly, I also want to say there was a fourth class of genomic events called complex events that you can see in myeloma, something called chromothripsis. That’s a very severe genomic lesion, is a ripple effect through the genome. There are a lot of havoc going on. And the first time we saw that, we thought this has to be something wrong with this sample. But when we look through more and more samples, we see that about a quarter of the patients actually have this chromothripsis.

So the bottom line is, it’s time to stop doing FISH, it’s time to do more advanced sequencing, ideally whole genome sequencing, but a step towards a whole genome could be to do whole exome sequencing. But there are companies saying that you can do whole genome sequencing for $1 in the future. So that’s really what needs to happen. We need to have better tools to better understand and then we can use this to better understand how to differentiate the therapy and have an individualized treatment. That’s what I talked about with the IRMA model.

Lisa Hatfield:

All right, well, thank you so much for that explanation. Dr. Landgren, can you speak to the advantages that bispecific antibodies offer over traditional therapies and how do you see their role in overcoming treatment resistance?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

Well, the bispecific antibodies is a novel way of engaging the immune system to go after the myeloma. So if you think about the other antibodies we have, we have three other antibodies. We have daratumumab, we have isatuximab (Sarclisa), we have elotuzumab (Empliciti), they are naked antibodies. They bind to the myeloma and on the backend of these antibodies, there is something called the FC receptor that attracts cells, NK cells, for example, also T cells, and they also attract, some of these antibodies also attract complement and they also by themselves send what’s called a death signal into the myeloma cell.

The bispecific antibodies are very different. They bind and they don’t send death signals, they don’t engage with the complement. What they do is that they have another arm sticking out that binds to the T cells. That’s a CD3 arm and there’s an open pocket. So when a T cell passes by, it grabs the T cell. And now you have a T cell linked to the antibody sitting next to the myeloma cell and the T cell will kill the myeloma. T cells can be very aggressive and kill the myeloma. You just hold them together, it’s like a matchmaker.

And if you think about how CAR T-cell therapy is designed, you take out the T cells, you manufacture them to have a special antenna receptor on their surface, and then you give them back again. And then they bind, this receptor binds to myeloma cells. So in the setting of a CAR T-cell therapy, the T-cell sits next to the myeloma cell, but that’s because the T cells were taken out of the body, manufactured to have this receptor that then finds the myeloma cell. But the bispecific antibody, that they don’t require the T cells to be taken out, to be modified this way.

You just use your existing T-cells in your body and these antibody just binds to the T cells and the myeloma cells in the body. So it’s sort of a little bit mimics what the CAR T cells do, but it does it in its own way within the cell, within the tissue in the body. You asked me for resistance mechanism and how they are better. Well, I think the best answer I can give you is to say that the overall response rate for the bispecific antibodies are very high. They are 60 to 80 percent single drug compared to the current trials. And if you look and see the trials that have led to approval for the other existing drugs, they were 20 or 30 percent.

So the overall response rate is much higher for the bispecifics than they were for the other existing drugs. We don’t really know exactly how to use them, I would say. What’s the optimal dosing schedule? We give them weekly, it may be every other week, and maybe monthly, eventually, I would think. And should they be combined with which drugs? That’s ongoing investigation. Other questions are, can they be stopped? Can you monitor patients off therapy for a long time? Will some patients never have the disease coming back? We hope so, but we don’t know. Or would it be patients could be off therapy for a long time, like with CAR T cell? Could that happen with the bispecifics? It’s possible.

And if you were to monitor with blood-based tests and you see that there is reappearing disease, would you then put patients back on the therapy? These are questions we…there are a lot of questions, we don’t have answers to all these, but that’s where I think the field is going. A lot of people, including us, are trying to investigate this.

Lisa Hatfield:

Okay, thank you. And we have a number of questions about MRD testing, so I’m going to try to combine those all together. Basically, what the questions are asking is how do you interpret MRD testing with regard to prognosis, treatment response, and maybe even like treatment, ongoing treatment? How do you use those results in your clinic or any comments you might have on the MRD test?

Dr. Ola Landgren:

So MRD tests have been around for quite some time. We have been pioneers pushing it. We have worked on it for over 15 years. We worked with the FDA to see if MRD could eventually become an endpoint for drug approval, that’s work in progress. The FDA will make those decisions. There are a lot of trials that use MRD as a secondary endpoint to see how it correlates with progression-free survival. And there actually are some trials that have been using it as a cool primary or primary endpoint in the absence of FDA’s decision to accept it. But that is probably going to change in the future. We will see.  What have we done in the clinic? Well, we have used it in the same way as we have done with PET-CTs and the regular blood work. So if you use SPEP IFE light chains and you see there is residual disease after you have delivered your planned treatment, people have used what’s called consolidation therapy.

So we have done the same with the MRD test. If there is someone who has a little bit of disease left, we have tried to see if we could make that patient MRD-negative. We have also used it as a tool to build more reassurance. I mentioned before for patients who get this new combination therapies, if they are not very keen on jumping right to chemotherapy with Melphalan and transplant, if they want to collect the cells and keep them in the freezer, using the MRD as a tool to guide for reassurance.

Looking at the randomized trial showing that MRD negativity with or without transplant seems to have the same progression-free survival and in the absence of overall survival, either way, that has been published. But we would always say to patients, there are no definitive studies that have shown that this is how it is. It’s still an area of investigation. So if a patient wants to sort of do everything by the traditional book, we would give every step in the therapy and not pay attention. But a lot of patients say, I would rather monitor, and if I have to do these more toxic therapies, I wouldn’t do it. But I will use MRD to build confidence in myself.

Lisa Hatfield:

Well, thank you so much, Dr. Landgren, these have been great questions, and I actually have another half sheet of questions that we don’t have time for, because that’s all the time that we have. Dr. Landgren, thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure talking with you today. So thank you for joining our Patient Empowerment Network START HERE program. This has been an excellent discussion. Thanks to all of you, for your questions and tuning in. My name is Lisa Hatfield. I’ll see you next time.

Dr. Ola Landgren:

Thank you very much for having me. Thank you.


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Combination AML Therapy for Newly Diagnosed Patients | What Are the Long-Term Effects?

Combination AML Therapy for Newly Diagnosed Patients | What Are the Long-Term Effects? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A Patient Empowerment Network community member wants to know the length of time that patients can stay on the combined treatment of azacitidine (Vidaza) and venetoclax (Venclexta). AML specialist Dr. Jacqueline Garcia responds, sharing an update on the long-term follow-up data for this combination treatment.

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia is an oncologist and AML researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Garcia.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Jerry had this question. “How long can patients stay on azacitidine (Vidaza) and venetoclax (Venclexta) before relapse or toxicities force them to abandon treatment?”  

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia:

So, this is a good question. I would say azacitidine and venetoclax just got FDA-approved just shy of five years now, and it’s totally changed our treatment paradigm in many great ways. It was initially approved for patients that could not get intensive chemotherapies or were above 75. We call these our older patients, our more vulnerable.   

And we demonstrated and compared to azacitidine alone. It was given with placebo. We saw that the combination of azacitidine and venetoclax not only was safe, well-tolerated, it led to two-and-a-half times higher complete remission rates and impressively longer survival. That’s all we care about, patients are living longer. So, one of the things that we are appreciating in 2023 now, now that we have more patients on azacitidine and venetoclax, is that we have many patients that are long-term responders.  

So, in the original clinical trial we’ve been reported – and we just submitted the update for the long-term follow-up that we presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting in 2022, in December.   

We presented the long-term follow-up data that shows that responses can be durable and even as long as two years or three years in some patients. The average amount of time the patients are on therapy is somewhere between one-and-a-half to two years. But not every patient performs like an average patient.  

We have some that respond for less time. We have some that respond for a longer time. So, I definitely have a few patients that have been on combination therapy, and we’ve gone to year three, then four, and two that got to year five. And that was using the original indication of older the 75, no intensive chemotherapy. Most of those patients in the original trial and led to the approval were not transplant candidates. But once those drugs got approved, more patients that were older started getting this therapy.  

And so, the durability of this treatment might be longer for people that don’t have competing health problems and for specific mutation subtypes. There are a couple of mutation subtypes that include IDH2 and NPM1, where we’ve seen some extreme long-term responders.  

And then, there are others that are much shorter. So, I would say it’s very individual. In terms of toxicities in general, the regimens very well-tolerated. And if it’s not, often it’s because there should be supportive care, prophylaxis, and adjustments to the dosing strategy, which has been well-published. Sometimes, if you have a treating oncologist that is less familiar, they won’t know the nuances of how to adjust the doses, so I would ask your local oncologist to reach out to anybody that was part of the original trials. Often, a lot of us are very responsive to helping out our colleagues to help patients to stay on treatment.   

But at the end of the day, if a patient loses response or has a bad toxicity that makes it very difficult, we have to move on to another therapy.   

BTK Inhibitor Treatment Side Effects | What CLL Patients Should Know

BTK Inhibitor Treatment Side Effects | What CLL Patients Should Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients need to know about BTK inhibitor treatment side effects? Expert Dr. Danielle Brander explains common side effects with BTK inhibitors.

Dr. Danielle Brander is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies & Cellular Therapy at Duke University Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Danielle Brander.

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

We have a couple of questions about BTK inhibitors, and you already talked a little bit about the role of those and why they’re significant in treating CLL. But another patient’s asking about the, of course, a lot of patients wonder, what are the side effects? They hear chemo and like, “Oh, my gosh, the side effects are going to be off.” Can you talk about the side effects and even maybe some unusual side effects that you’ve heard of from patients when using the BTK inhibitors?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Sure, absolutely. And so again, really important, these are things that as we maybe anticipate patients are going to start treatment, this is a long discussion of deciding between treatment, for example, as first treatment. There’s no trial saying one path is necessarily better than the other. So we try to individualize choosing between BTK inhibitors or that venetoclax-based therapy I mentioned. Some of that though comes about and what expected side effects are expected side effects for the individual. I try for patients to hear it from myself, other members of the team, the nurse, our pharmacist, for example.

And so patients shouldn’t feel overwhelmed to keep asking about what to expect or new side effects. There are some side effects we talk about regardless of the treatment. So I’ll just point out, anytime you’re starting treatment, you’ll hear the team talk about risk for infection, monitoring for fevers, reaching out to us about those kinds of side effects, lower blood counts that can happen regardless, not specific to BTK though it can happen there as well.

There’s some specifically though with BTK inhibitors, we ask patients to watch out for. Some BTK inhibitors can cause some cardiovascular side effects, meaning watching out for funny beating of the heart or what we call palpitations, skipped beats. There can be arrhythmias, some patients can have with time elevation in their blood pressure, for example. And then risk for bleeding, meaning BTK inhibitors affect how the platelets stick together similar to what aspirin does.

So the platelet levels may be normal but patients might have easier bruising, just generally manageable. But if there’s any kind of bleeding, certainly the team should be aware. It’s also the reason though, if you’re on a BTK inhibitor and you have a planned surgery or procedure, let your team know, because we may recommend or a lot of times recommend holding the medication before and after certain surgeries or procedures.

Other side effects can be muscle or joint aches. Some patients have some gastrointestinal side effects like looser stools or sensitivities to certain food causing looser stools, for example. And then there are some that are specific to the individual BTK inhibitor. This is the one point I’ll mention that first-generation BTK inhibitor ibrutinib, part of the reason for the second-generation zanubrutinib (Brukinsa) and acalabrutinib (Calquence) is not necessarily of them working better but to have less of these side effects that I just mentioned. 


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Does CLL Research Show Potential for a Cure?

Does CLL Research Show Potential for a Cure? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Could chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) research potentially bring a cure for patients? Dr. Danielle Brander shares her perspective about the future of CLL care, functional cure, and cure-like condition.

Dr. Danielle Brander is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies & Cellular Therapy at Duke University Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Danielle Brander.

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

So as a cancer patient, one of the biggest questions I had when I was diagnosed, you hear the word “cancer” or in this case “CLL leukemia.” Two questions. One of them, is there a cure for CLL? And if not, are there any trials looking at a cure for CLL?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Yes. Excellent. An understandable question. Traditionally, we say that CLL or others slower-growing, or sometimes you’ll hear the term indolent lymphomas, do tend to be slower-growing.  Some patients don’t need treatment. But the flip side of that is we generally think of them as not curable, that they’re a chronic condition and that treatment, the goal of treatment is to knock it down and relieve whatever symptoms or indications or reasons your starting treatment are.

But at some level, we historically think of CLL as either eventually coming back or sticking around, so to speak. However, I think most oncologists, most those in the field, feel that some of the treatments that are around or in combination, that we’re going to have some patients that have maybe what a term might be functional cure or individual, cure-like condition.

Meaning if our newer treatments for some patients can knock down the CLL so much that it either doesn’t come back or take so long to even show itself again, in a way that serves as what the purpose of cure, really is, which is to get it down to levels that it’s not causing problems or not coming back, for the lifetime of the patient.

Bone marrow transplant is the only therapy historically that has been cured, has offered a cure for some patients. The downside and the reason that most patients aren’t referred to for bone marrow transplant is the risk side of it. Meaning, unfortunately, a bone marrow or stem cell transplant has such a high risk of directly causing side effects.

That could be life-limiting or chronic side effects from the transplant itself versus the agents available now that we aren’t using or referring to bone marrow transplant nearly as much, but I think it’s really encouraging what we’re seeing in responses. So we talked already about those main categories of BTK inhibitors or venetoclax, I didn’t yet talk about, but there are many trials that have looked at those in combination, or CAR T, for example, or bispecific antibodies that are knocking down the CLL to such low levels. But the hope is that serves as a way of functional cure. But it’s going to take time to see if that’s the case. But we’re all very encouraged and really believe that that’s on the horizon.


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Phases of AML Therapy | Understanding Treatment Options

Phases of AML Therapy | Understanding Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the types and phases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment? Dr. Alice Mims, an AML specialist, defines induction, consolidation, and maintenance therapy for patients. Dr. Mims also explains the role of stem cell transplant and discusses promising new AML therapies.

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

I’d like to move on to treatment now, Dr. Mims. And, of course, treatment takes place in phases for AML. The first is induction therapy. Can you start by defining induction therapy for our audience?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, induction therapy is really terminology that we use to talk about initial therapy for someone with a new diagnosis. So, we can have intensive induction therapies and non-intensive induction therapies. But the goal for either of those types of treatment is to get the leukemia into remission.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the available treatment options for induction therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, to talk about that in a little bit more detail, for intensive induction regimens, those typically involve cytotoxic chemotherapy. So, you may hear terminology like, “7 + 3 induction,” or “high-dose cytarabine regimens,” but those are typically more intensive regimens that we use that can have increased side effects but may be very important based off the type of acute leukemia. 

And then for non-intensive based regimens, one of the standards has really evolved to be venetoclax (Venclexta) and azacitidine (Vidaza) as a non-intensive regimen that can work very well for a majority of patients. And there are some off shoots of that as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And when does stem cell transplant come into play? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, stem cell transplant is something that we all think about at the beginning for anyone with a new diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia where as we’re working to get back genomic information about the individual’s acute leukemia, we may go ahead and start looking for different donors, doing typing, just in case that’s something that we need as far as someone’s therapy.  

But typically we reserve stem cell transplant for patients who have either intermediate or high-risk features of their AML. Or who may have even favorable respite are not responding as well as we would like when looking at the depth of remission. And so, we always want  to be prepared in case that’s something we need to move forward with as part of their care, if the goal of their treatment is for curative intent. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk about what happens after the initial phase of treatment. What’s the purpose of consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are a few different purposes we can use consolidation therapy for. So, for patients – consolidation therapy is used for patients who have achieved remission. And then it’s either to try to hopefully get them cure of their AML. The patients have more favorable risk features of their AML and cure is an option through just chemotherapy alone.  

Or it can be used to try to keep people in remission while we’re working to get towards stem cell transplant as that can sometimes take a few months to get a donor ready, have things ready to move forward with transplant. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the options for consolidation therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, options for consolidated chemotherapy are typically based off of what you had initially for induction chemotherapy. So, if it’s more intensive-based regimens, it typically is consolidation with intensive consolidation, cytarabine-based (Cytosar-U) regimens.  

For lower intensity regimens, typically consolidation is more continuing therapy on what you started but may have adjustments of the treatment based off of trying to decrease the toxicity now that the patients are in remission. 

Katherine Banwell:

And how are patients monitored in consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, it definitely is based off of the individual’s type of consolidation chemotherapy or treatment. But most patients, if we feel like the treatment is going to lower blood counts, they have bloodwork twice a week, and we’re watching for things, for side effects for treatment, looking out for risk of infection, giving transfusion support, and then if something happens that we feel like we can’t support patients in an outpatient setting, then we’ll get them back into the hospital if they need to for care. 

Katherine Banwell:

What side effects are you looking for? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, most of the side effects with any of the treatments that we give are what we call myelosuppressives. So, it lowers the different types of blood counts.  

So, white blood cell count which increases risk of infection, red blood cells, so, side effects or symptoms from anemia. And then risk of bleeding from low platelet counts.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Maintenance therapy has become more common in other blood cancers particularly in multiple myeloma. Is there a role for maintenance therapy in AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

There actually is now, which is something that’s newer that has evolved for acute myeloma leukemia. So, in the context of intensive therapy, we now have oral azacitidine (Onureg), which is a little bit different than some of the IV formulations that we give.  

But for patients who receive intensive induction therapy, get into remission and may receive consolidation but are not able to go onto transplant if they have that immediate or higher risk features, there’s FDA approval for oral azacytidine, which has been shown to improve overall survival and keep people in those remissions for longer. 

More recently, specifically for patients who have a particular type of mutation called FLT3, if they also receive intensive induction therapy with a FLT3 inhibitor added onto that, then their quizartinib (Vanflyta) was just recently approved as a maintenance therapy for patients with that particular type of AML. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there emerging AML therapies that patients should know about other than what you just mentioned? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think there are a lot of exciting treatments that are up and coming based off of many small molecule inhibitors that are being studied.  

One in particular I would mention that everyone’s very excited about is a class of agents called menin inhibitors.  

And so that’s an oral agent that has been shown to have responses for patients with relapsed or refractory AML who have NMP-1 mutations or have something called KNT2A rearrangements. And seeing responses with just a single agent in the relapsed/refractory setting, it’s been really exciting. And so, I think we’re hopeful that that may become FDA-approved in the near future. And it’s also now being explored in combination with intensive chemotherapies as well as less intensive induction regimens. And so, maybe we can do a better job with upfront treatment by adding these therapies on.  

New and Emerging AML Therapies Being Studied in Clinical Trials

Are there newer AML treatments that patients should know about? AML researcher Dr. Jacqueline Garcia discusses therapies being studied and how recent clinical trials have advanced care for patients.

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia is an oncologist and AML researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Garcia.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

As a researcher, Dr. Garcia, you’re on the frontlines of AML treatment. Are there new and emerging therapies that patients should be aware of?  

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia:

Yeah. I think we’re at this really exciting point now where we had for a long time just been giving people standard two agent intensive chemotherapy. We have been studying in Phase II and Phase III settings, and even in Phase I – which means testing safety out for the first time. We’ve been moving a lot of treatments to more mature settings where we’re testing the addition of a third drug. So, for people that are getting intensive chemo, we’re looking at, “Can we add a pill to augment responses deep in them to reduce risk of disease returning?”  

For less intensive chemotherapies, one of the most common regimens we now use is something called azacitidine (Vidaza), which is a hypomethylating agent that is given by IV or subcutaneous administration. Plus, a pill called venetoclax (Venclexta).  

We helped to get that FDA-approved a couple of years ago. That combination of therapy, we call that a doublet, meaning it’s two drugs – because it’s so well-tolerated and active, we’re now asking the greedy question of, “Well, can we make it more active for patients since we’re seeing how well-tolerated it is?”  

So, there have been a lot of therapies that are currently under investigation that are adding a third drug to these less-intensive doublets. So, there’s a lot of therapies under investigation to test, “Can we add an immunotherapy target? Is there another pill that we can add? Is there another targeting mutation to add to the doublet?” So, we’re looking at AML therapies from different angles. We’re looking at adding something to the existing new standard of care – those are these new, so-called, triplets.  

We’re looking at still the role of cellular therapy or CAR Ts targeting leukemia cells from an immunotherapy standpoint.  

That remains underdeveloped overall, and we have not succeeded as well, like our lymphoid colleagues in the lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia realm where there are drugs that are active and FDA-approved.  

So, we’re still trying to identify the right target. But those are some of the areas that are currently under study. 

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Can Bone Marrow Return to Normal After CLL Treatment?

Can Bone Marrow Return to Normal After CLL Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is it possible for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients to achieve normal bone marrow after CLL treatment? Expert Dr. Ryan Jacobs explains MRD-undetectable status and the typical time period to deep CLL remission.

Dr. Ryan Jacobs is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in chronic lymphocytic leukemia from Levine Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Jacobs.

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

This patient is asking, upon completion of venetoclax (Venclexta) and obinutuzumab (Gazyva) and achieving MRD-undetectable status, how long does it take your bone marrow to achieve improved hemoglobin, hematocrit platelets, white blood cells? And does it always return to normal? And I might add in there just any kind of treatment, does the bone marrow typically return to “normal”? And how long does that take?

Dr. Jacobs:

So the majority of patients treated in the first-line setting and actually in the relapse setting with a combination of venetoclax and obinutuzumab, will have their CLL go into such a deep remission that we cannot detect it in 1 out of 10,000 cancer cells. So that is called MRD-undetectable. Those patients are usually also in complete remission, which means if you look at the bone marrow, you’re not going to see any CLL there. So the majority of patients have their counts normalized while they’re still on the venetoclax. You take it for a year. The complete remission is usually achieved before therapy is completed. And what little, if any CLL is in the bone marrow is not causing a drop in the counts. Now, of course, patients can have the toxicity-reduced counts. And if that’s the case, if it’s a toxicity issue, then it should resolve when you stop treatment. So I would say, usually it does return to normal, if not all…when they’re on therapy, then after therapy. If it’s a relapsed patient that’s seen a lot of therapies though, the bone marrow might never return to normal. 

Lisa Hatfield:

How far out are we from curative therapies for CLL patients with the tougher prognostic indicators?

Dr. Jacobs:

So I think curative is an interesting question, and it can mean different things to different people. But we’ve already shown at the most recent American Society of Hematology meeting, when they looked at the average life expectancy of patients without CLL, since the time that ibrutinib (Imbruvica) got approved and then now CLL patients, the survival curves are overlapping. So as of now, it looks like with our newer treatments that a CLL patient should reasonably expect to live a normal life expectancy. Does that mean cure? Well, if by cure you mean, does the disease go away forever with one treatment? We still don’t think we have that therapy for most patients. But we’ll see as we get longer and longer follow-up with some of these newer agents is there are going to be a proportion of patients that never relapse, that ibrutinib is going to have the longest follow up because it was the first one. I was just looking at a poster at the European Hematology Association meeting where they’ve followed patients seven, eight years out and more than half have still not progressed that got ibrutinib as a first-line therapy. So it’s reasonable to think that maybe some will never progress.


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Advances in the Treatment of Relapsed/Refractory Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Advances in the Treatment of Relapsed/Refractory Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Omer Jamy discusses his approach when considering treatment for patients with relapsed or refractory AML, including transplant eligibility, molecular markers, and whether clinical trials may be an appropriate option.

Dr. Omer Jamy is a Leukemia and Bone Marrow Transplant Physician and Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Learn more about Dr. Omer Jamy.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Jamy, are there any recent advances that may affect the care of patients with relapsed or refractory AML? 

Dr. Omer Jamy:

Yeah, that’s a good question. So, patients with relapse refractory AML, of course, carry a poor prognosis. That means that chemotherapy was working and has stopped working or chemotherapy didn’t work from the get-go, right?  

So, in my practice I try to divide patients into two different buckets. One is that I need to get them into remission, and they’re fit for a transplant, so I take them to transplant.  

So, then my treatment approach is a little different for those patients. As opposed to someone who’s elderly or too frail, that they may go into remission, but they may not be able to proceed to stem cell transplantation after that.  

So, what happened in the relapsed/refractory setting also depends on what the patient received in the upfront setting. Ideally, I would recommend a clinical trial enrollment for patients with relapse refractory AML if they have access to it. At the time of relapsed/refractory AML, it is very important to again profile the leukemia to see if there are any mutations that were present at diagnosis or if there are any new mutations for which there may be targeted therapy. Some of those mutations for which we have targeted therapy include FLT3-ITD for which there is a drug called gilteritnib (Xospata), which is FDA-approved in the relapsed/refractory setting. 

We spoke about IDH 1 which is ivosidenib, IDH 2 which is enasidenib (Idhifa) is also approved for patients with relapsed/refractory AML. And then more recently the FDA approved another IDH1 compound called olutasidenib (Rezlidhia) which is also for patients with relapse refractory acute myeloid leukemia with an IDH1 mutation. I think these are target therapies which have shown to get people into a second remission and beyond. And these have been approved in the last few years. And I think it is very important to basically test whether the person harbors these mutations so that we can target them accordingly.  

For patients who don’t have any mutations we would generally, outside of a clinical trial, probably use the combination of some of the approved agents that may be venetoclax (Venclexta) with azacitidine (Vidaza) or decitabine (Dacogen). Patients who may have received this venetoclax or a hypomethylating agents frontline and may still be eligible for intensive chemotherapy.  

You could offer them intensive chemotherapy in the relapsed/refractory setting, but I would say that at this point being at a center where there’s opportunities to enroll in a clinical trial would be really helpful as well. 

Can CLL Treatment Cause Gastrointestinal Side Effects?

Can CLL Treatment Cause Gastrointestinal Side Effects? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 What do chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients need to know about gastrointestinal side effects? Expert Dr. Ryan Jacobs explains some common gastrointestinal side effects from treatment and how treatment can be adjusted to decrease severity of side effects.

Dr. Ryan Jacobs is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia from Levine Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Jacobs.

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

We have several questions from a couple of patients regarding a side effect. So the question, “How long will my side effects of my CLL treatment last? And what can be done to reduce those?” And specifically, a patient is asking if there’s a connection with CLL and gastrointestinal issues?

Dr. Ryan Jacobs:

So all of the treatments, including venetoclax (Venclexta), the BTK inhibitors, will have diarrhea listed as a possible side effect. It’s usually low grade. But generally, I have found the gastrointestinal toxicities abate some over time. So if they are present earlier, if you’re able to stick with therapy, they do tend to get better. For the once daily meds, I encourage those patients to try to take the drug in the evening. The GI tract tends to be less active later in the day, and you can sleep off some of the potential gastrointestinal issues. So I’ve had success there. Sometimes we have to lower the dose to just find the best dose to help mitigate some of these. There’s the antidiarrheals that can help if you need them. Imodium. I had a patient I saw earlier this week that Imodium didn’t really work, but good old Pepto Bismol did the trick from time to time.

So certainly though, if the gastrointestinal issues are significantly affecting quality of life, we need to come up with a new plan, whether that’s reducing the dose or changing to a different option.  Specifically, what’s nice about the BTK inhibitors is they all have data that show if you’re having problems with one, you can switch to the other and likely not have the same problem occur. So that’s nice.  Have you ever seen any uncharacteristic side effects several times in your practice? Anything really unique? I’m just curious about that.

Yeah. There’s always the patients, they can have a more severe form of maybe, of a more common side effect, like the…we were talking about diarrhea, I’ve had a patient that actually had a difficult time with venetoclax, had difficulties with the stool incontinence. So that was kind of a severe form of that. It wasn’t so much diarrhea that was the problem. But we were able to ultimately mitigate that with a dose reduction. I would say the way, particularly if it’s an unusual side effect, the best thing to do is to take a break. If it’s a serious side effect that needs to be addressed and it’s affecting quality of life or causing problems, take a break from the treatment. If you take a week off these treatments, particularly venetoclax, taking breaks doesn’t matter. We like not to take long breaks with the BTK inhibitors. But if you take a week off, these drugs don’t have very long half-lives. So if the issue is not getting any better and you’ve been off of treatment for a week, it’s unlikely that that issue is coming from the treatment. So that’s a way I try to sort through some…particularly if they’re unusual side effects sometimes. And certainly, if we deem that the issue  is connected to the treatment, I’ll usually try lowering the dose before just giving up.


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CLL and BTK Inhibitor Treatment: What Are the Risk Factors?

CLL and BTK Inhibitor Treatment: What Are the Risk Factors? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s important for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients to know when considering BTK inhibitor treatment? Expert Dr. Ryan Jacobs explains some cardiac risk factors with BTK inhibitors and patients who might want to consider other treatment options. 

Dr. Ryan Jacobs is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia from Levine Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Jacobs.

Download Resource Guide   |  Descargar Guía en Español

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

So this patient is asking, “For patients who may be eligible for BTK inhibitors, are there specific comorbidities that might contribute to adverse side effects?”

Dr. Ryan Jacobs:

Yeah, so we screen…all BTK inhibitors have some cardiac toxicity. They have been shown with the second-generation BTK inhibitors to have less cardiac toxicity than ibrutinib, specifically atrial fibrillation. So if you have atrial fibrillation, maybe that’s a reason why you might go on venetoclax first as opposed to a BTK inhibitor. But it’s not a contraindication to getting a BTK inhibitor if the atrial fibrillation is under good control. Other cardiac risk factors would include difficult to control hypertension at baseline, or heart failure. These are all things that might make us think twice about using a BTK inhibitor as our first therapy, because venetoclax has no cardiac toxicities.

The other thing to consider is BTK inhibitors all to a degree have, and I describe it to patients, like an aspirin-like effect on the platelets. They do interfere with the platelet binding, which so universally, patients will know to varying levels some easier bruising. And if patients are on, because of say, they’ve had a heart attack in the past and they’re on aspirin at baseline, or what would even be more concerning if they were on a drug like Plavix because they’ve had a stent placed, that would be something that would really concern me and would definitely push me more towards venetoclax (Venclexta), that again, doesn’t have those anti-platelet interactions. Also, patients who are on blood thinners because of a history of blood clot or atrial fibrillation, there is the potential increased risk for bleeding and bruising there as well.  None of these are absolute contraindications, they’re just all what goes into the blender, if you will, of putting lots of information in and coming up with the best treatment decision as personalized for the CLL patient. We’re blessed to have multiple options, but it does make it more of a challenge to find the “best” option. 


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CLL & Relapse: A Look at Available Treatment Options

CLL & Relapse: A Look at Available Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment options are available for relapsed patients? Expert Dr. Ryan Jacobs explains options for patients in relapse and for those seeking additional treatments.

Dr. Ryan Jacobs is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia from Levine Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Jacobs.

Download Resource Guide   |  Descargar Guía en Español

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield: 

What treatments do you think are the most beneficial for patients whose CLL has relapsed? What are the poor prognostic indicators for CLL? And along the same lines, what are the high-risk genetic markers for CLL?

Dr. Ryan Jacobs:

It’s a little more complicated discussion in the first-line setting because both are options. At this point in time, we haven’t been…at least those that are, I would say, staying up to date on the CLL data, we have not been using chemotherapy for a long time. So most of the relapsed patients will have seen either one of the BTK inhibitors or venetoclax (Venclexta). And so what we do in the second-line setting is just use the other option that they haven’t seen. The data tells us, when you look at what treatments are being prescribed, most patients are going on BTK inhibitors, and they have been around longer than venetoclax in general. So for a lot of patients, that relapsed treatment is going to be venetoclax. Because that has the best data in terms of treating patients that have progressed on a BTK inhibitor like ibrutinib (Imbruvica) or acalabrutinib (Calquence) or zanubrutinib (Brukinsa).

In the near future, we’ll have pirtobrutinib (Jaypirca) and so maybe, maybe some will get that drug before venetoclax, and that’s probably okay. And so we’ll have that additional option. The complicated patients, and I’ve alluded to this, or what do we do after BTK and Bcl-2? What are we left with? I mentioned PI3 kinase, that’s not a great option. There’s still stem cell transplant out there for young patients that are running out of options. Clinical trial is really what I would like to emphasize there. If you’re a patient that can get to a high volume referral cancer center with a CLL specialist, I would do that if you have seen BTK inhibitors and venetoclax and are looking for other options.


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Emerging CLL Research | Understanding the CAPTIVATE and MAJIC Studies

Emerging CLL Research | Understanding the CAPTIVATE and MAJIC Studies from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s the latest in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) research? Expert Dr. Ryan Jacobs shares updates about the CAPTIVATE study, MAJIC study, and potential treatment breakthroughs.

Dr. Ryan Jacobs is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia from Levine Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Jacobs.

Download Resource Guide   |  Descargar Guía en Español

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

I did a little research last night before I talked with you, and it sounds like that is something that the CAPTIVATE trial is investigating. A patient asked about that, what that trial is. And it’s music to my ears as a cancer patient to hear something like “fixed duration”, it’s also investigating a fixed duration so patients and have maybe a bit of a medication vacation. So can you speak to that trial a little bit and explain what it is a little bit on how that might benefit patients with CLL?

Dr. Ryan Jacobs: 

Yeah. So one of the best elements of treating with venetoclax (Venclexta) is that it produces a deep level of remission in many patients. In fact, when given with the monoclonal antibody obinutuzumab (Gazyva), to CLL patients receiving that treatment as a first line of therapy for their CLL, about three-quarters of CLL patients will get to so deep of a remission that we call them minimal residual disease negative.

Lisa Hatfield: 

And that’s a blood test or a bone marrow test, but more easily done as a blood test, where we can look to a sensitivity of one in 10,000 white cells and determine if there’s any CLL in those 10,000 cells. We can actually go deeper than that, but we say, we CLL patients are negative if they’re less than one in 10,000. And so 75 percent of patients will get to that depth of remission just with obinutuzumab for six months along with venetoclax for a year.

Dr. Ryan Jacobs:

So when researchers saw that, they recognized that we could probably stop treatment in those patients getting venetoclax because venetoclax yields these deep responses. And then the next kind of thought was, well, could we give a BTK inhibitor with venetoclax, but also over a defined treatment timeline and maybe get some of the remarkable benefits of treating with a BTK inhibitor but not get stuck being on therapy for years and years.

So the CAPTIVATE study was the first really to, in a large Phase II manner, look at that combination in a younger patient population, it was for patients 70 and younger. And it wasn’t in a high risk or anything, it was all comers. But they did have to be 70 and younger and getting treatment as a first-line therapy. So the combination was very effective. As of the last American Society of Hematology meeting in December, four years of data was reported and a large percentage of patients were still free of progression, over 80 percent still free of progression. And that’s three years off therapy at that point.

It was well-tolerated, not many patients had to come off due to toxicity. It was in fact, less than 10 percent had really significant toxicities requiring discontinuation. So it was a well-tolerated effective treatment.

I do have one of those studies to open at my institution, the acalabrutinib-venetoclax combination,  it’s called the MAJIC trial, and it is a large Phase III study that if it’s successful, I think would lead to the approval of giving those two drugs together. But then the extra credit question is, who should get the combination and who should get the drugs separately? And we don’t have an answer for that right now, and that’s a long topic of debate among CLL specialists. 

Lisa Hatfield:

Great. Well, thank you. So for that trial you spoke of that you’re conducting right now, is that… Is it only relapsed patients who are eligible for that? Or is that for front-line therapy.

Dr. Ryan Jacobs:

No, this is a first-line therapy that the MAJIC study is.

Lisa Hatfield: 

Oh good. That’s promising for patients too.

Dr. Ryan Jacobs:

And it has a really good comparator arm, so that won’t be a problem that the standard arm on that study is venetoclax (Venclexta) plus obinutuzumab, so it’s comparing against one of our best treatments, and so we really will get the answer of does it look better to use the BTK with the Bcl-2? Or is it not really that much better than just giving a venetoclax with obinutuzumab? And then the one obvious element that I didn’t mention that would be nice for most patients in addition to being efficacious and well-tolerated is if you could get an all-oral combination. Of course, venetoclax with obinutuzumab, you’re still getting quite a few infusions with the obinutuzumab over the first six months. So that’s a lot of time in the infusion center that you could avoid with just the combination of two oral targeted agents. So that would be a breakthrough for patients too, I think. 


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