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February 21, 2011

Report from the MMRF Personalized Medicine Roundtable; Kathy Giusti, CEO

Today, a patient diagnosed with breast cancer is most likely to be treated in one of three ways, as determined by a molecular analysis of her tumor. For a patient with lung cancer, treatment decisions are often informed by the existence of a specific genetic mutation known to make certain treatments more successful. In these and other cancers, multiple clinical trials are currently underway testing new medicines among genetically defined subgroups of patients.

In multiple myeloma, this kind of “personalized” clinical decision-making is not so advanced. We have made enormous strides in bringing new therapies to patients in the past decade – and in improving patients’ prognosis as a result – but there is still much to be done to advance our basic biological understanding of the disease and to tailor an individualized course of treatment.

In the near-term, we need answers to why some patients respond better than others to today’s medicines, and how we should respond when they develop resistance. Longer-term, we need a greater understanding of the biological changes that occur throughout the course of a person’s disease, in order to steer our clinical development efforts toward known mechanisms in multiple myeloma.

At MMRF and MMRC we are laying important groundwork toward these goals across the entire drug development continuum: supporting basic research to identify important molecular pathways that may be targets for drug development; advancing clinical development strategies that exploit this understanding; and organizing a community response that unites as many patients and physicians as possible to improve treatment for all.

Last week we previewed our long-term vision for personalized medicine in a half-day meeting with 40 of the leading minds in the field. We heard about the state of the art in cancer care from several perspectives – academic research institutions, community cancer centers, drug developers, diagnostics companies, IT companies, and others. We gained enormously helpful feedback that will be critically important to all of us as we move ahead.

As a group we also found many points of intersection that underscore the value in looking across the many forms of cancer, rather than segmenting our efforts. We talked about common pathways through which multiple cancers develop, where finding a way to intervene may have huge implications for several disease types.

I left the Roundtable more energized than ever about the progress we have already made against personalized medicine and the bold vision we will advance in the months to come. To do so we need patients’ support of this effort – specifically donating their tissue to our Tissue Bank – like never before. As a patient myself, I am truly excited at the prospect of helping to bring patients better, more personalized treatments, and I ask all those who can to join me by banking their tissue at their next bone marrow biopsy.

January 26, 2011

Don’t Forget Your Re-Birthday! Kathy Giusti, CEO

You never forget the moment you hear, “You have cancer.” Even after 15 years, the heartbreak of that day doesn’t seem to fade. Each January, as the anniversary of my diagnosis draws near, I brace myself for what has always been a bittersweet day—one laced with feelings of devastation and fear that never quite go away, yet mixed with immense gratitude for the beginning of another year I never imagined I’d live to see.
This January also marked another anniversary in my life with multiple myeloma—five years since my stem cell transplant with my twin sister, Karen, as my donor. I will always remember that day as a re-birth—a new chance for me to fight the disease and the belief that I just might make it through. I am thankful for each and every moment the transplant bought me, but it has gone by so unbelievably fast that I didn’t see the anniversary coming. And I certainly did not think it was on anyone else’s radar.
So imagine my shock when, at the end of Michael Reinert’s incredible show about his journey with multiple myeloma, “So Tell Me, What Can I Do?” there was a surprise party in honor of my fifth “re-birthday.” I felt so blessed that everyone was able to come together to celebrate the incredible gift of time my sister gave me and reminded me to never take for granted the hope that my transplant brought. It is moments like these, surrounded by the people who mean the most, that patients live and breathe for. Thank you, thank you, thank you to family and my dear friends, who have never left my side, my doctors at Dana-Farber, Ken Anderson and Paul Richardson, and the talented Michael Reinert, who together made my re-birthday one that I will never forget.

Kathy Giusti

Me, Michael Reinert, and my twin sister Karen Andrews

Kathy Giusti

Michael and I cutting into my beautiful 're-birthday' cake!

December 8, 2010

MMRF Newsflash from ASH, Vol. 2, Anne Quinn Young, MPH


The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) team continues to report from the American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting in Orlando. The Annual ASH Meeting featured several dozen abstracts on next-generation treatments for the treatment of multiple myeloma. Below are a few highlights of the data presented over the past few days:

  1. Encouraging results of a Phase II study of carfilzomib, a next-generation proteasome inhibitor that was facilitated by the MMRC, were presented by Dr. David Siegel. Of 257 patients evaluated in the study, patients had an overall response rate of 24% to carfilzomib and a median duration of response of more than 7 months. Notably, no patients discontinued treatment due to either new or worsening peripheral neuropathy. A separate analysis of patient responses revealed that patients who had high-risk features such as chromosome 13 deletions, deletion of chromosome 17p and/or translocations of chromosomes 4 and 14 or chromosomes 14 and 16 had similar response rates. Based on these positive results, Onyx, the manufacturer, expects to file for FDA approval sometime in 2011. Meanwhile, a Phase III trial comparing carfilzomib-Rev-dex to Rev-dex is open and accruing patients.

  2. New data from several trials involving the exciting new IMiD pomalidomide were also presented. The trials, conducted in the US (one of which was conducted through the MMRC) and in France, included patients who were refractory to both Velcade and Revlimid - patients who are in urgent need of new treatment options. Regardless of the dose schedule under study, at least 30% of patients receiving 4 mg in each trial responded to therapy. There was no evidence of the incidence or worsening of peripheral neuropathy. A Phase III trial is expected to open in early 2011.

  3. The novel therapy Zolinza (vorinostat), a histone deacetylase inhibitor, continues to appear to be a promising new option for myeloma patients in combination with standard therapies like Velcade (bortezomib) and Revlimid (lenalidomide). Poster presentations revealed compelling, but early, data on Zolinza in combination with Velcade and/or Revlimid, both for newly diagnosed and for relapsed/refractory patients. Excitingly, one trial, conducted in part through the MMRC, found it could re-sensitize Velcade-resistant patients to the combination of Velcade and Zolinza. This combination drug is being studied in a Phase III trial and, if the results are promising, it could be FDA-approved for myeloma as early as 2012.

  4. The results of a Phase II study of elotuzumab in combination with Revlimid and dexamethasone, a trial that advanced from an earlier MMRC study, were presented. Although treated patients had not previously received Revlimid, the ORR was 28 percent, and 23 percent in patients receiving 10 or 20 mg/m2, respectively. This is a very early study, but the results are encouraging. Additional data on early studies of elotuzumab plus Rev-dex, as well as elotuzumab plus Velcade-dex, both of which were advanced through the MMRC, show similarly encouraging data. A Phase III clinical trial comparing elotuzumab-Rev-dex to Rev-dex is expected to open early next year.

By the end of the week audiocast highlights from the meeting will be available, featuring the expert commentary of Dr. Sagar Lonial of Emory University and of Dr. David Siegel of the University of Hackensack Medical Center. This will be followed by a live teleconference in mid-January (stay tuned for details!) and a detailed report of findings from the meeting in the February 2011 issue of FOCUS, the MMRF's bi-annual newsletter.

December 6, 2010

MMRF Newsflash from ASH, Vol. 1, Anne Quinn Young, MPH


The MMRF team is on-site at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting in Orlando and is pleased to share with you highlights from key sessions over the next two days. This first update focuses on new data presented on stem cell transplant and maintenance therapy following transplant. Subsequent updates will focus on new drugs in the pipeline. There were several key takeaways regarding transplant and maintenance therapy:

  1. The inclusion of Velcade (bortezomib) in an induction regimen prior to high-dose melphalan and stem cell transplant, as well as consolidation and maintenance therapy post-transplant, continues to lead to high response rates, particularly CRs and nearCRs. Moreover, Velcade continues to work as or nearly as effectively in patients with high-risk features like the deletion of 13q or translocation of chromosomes 4 and 14, ie, t(4;14).

  2. Maintenance therapy with Revlimid (lenalidomide) continues to delay disease progression (recurrence) when administered in low doses (5-15 mg continuously or for 21/28 days/month) following high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplant. It is important to understand that we do not yet know if there is a survival benefit; longer follow-up is needed. We also do not yet know if there are specific patients who are more likely to benefit from maintenance and/or if there are patients who may not need maintenance therapy given the low risk nature of their disease. The MMRF is committed to better understanding the right therapy for each patient, and is investing in research to help answer these types of questions.

  3. In standard risk multiple myeloma patients, after three years of follow-up, there was no benefit in terms of delay of disease progression or survival for patients who received an autologous stem cell transplant plus a mini-allogeneic transplant vs. two autologous stem cell transplants. Given these results and the high rate of toxicities, any type of allogeneic transplant should be carefully discussed with your doctor and only considered within the context of a clinical trial. Follow-up of patients in the trial will continue should the long-term results yield new insights.

Stay tuned for continued updates over the next couple of days as more data are presented!

December 5, 2010

ASH 2010: MMRF Trip Report for Friday December 3 and Saturday December 4 Louise Perkins, PhD


The first several days at ASH have been invigorating as the progress towards the next new treatments for multiple myeloma and other blood cancers is shared at this annual international meeting of the American Society of Hematology. ASH is one of the most important scientific gatherings for researchers and doctors studying MM and related cancers.

The annual MMRF symposium on Friday night helped to kick off the meeting. This year's session truly excelled in its scientific content for doctors on the continuing evolution of myeloma patient care. Hats off to MMRF's Anne Quinn Young and Dr. Paul Richardson for that work.

On Saturday, the MMRF met with more than 10 pharmaceutical companies to identify new collaborations accelerating the next treatments. From these meetings will come not only new validation projects to prioritize the next generation of drugs but also new clinical trials for the MMRC. In addition, we learned that there are numerous MM Phase III studies being planned for 2011, some of which are of drugs already showing promise and which also includes drugs that have been evaluated in MMRC clinical trials.

While amazing progress has been made in the last decade, there is still a great deal to be done. The MMRF is here at ASH on behalf of our patients not just to monitor the scientific state-of-the-field, but to actively ensure that there is a continuum of progress. How do we do that? We work with companies and academic researchers and foster projects that build on recent successes and takes advantage of the power of collaboration among companies, academic researchers and patients.

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