February 10, 2014

MMRF Scientific Steering Committee Roundtable

Aiming even higher, with a little help from our friends…

Despite heavy snow and freezing rain, some of the most esteemed scientists and researchers in academic institutions and the pharma/biotech industry in North America convened this week in Boston for the MMRF Scientific Steering Committee roundtable to help identify and prioritize the most promising science and new therapy areas as part of the Research Agenda for our next three-year Strategic Plan.

It was a rare opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from an impressive array of preeminent experts, many specialists outside the myeloma field (from CML to melanoma to lung cancer), who dedicated their time to enthusiastically address our most critical challenges:

  • How can we enable all myeloma patients to understand and obtain the most effective treatments for their specific subtype or version of multiple myeloma?
  • How can we harness the power of the immune system to rapidly advance immunotherapy in myeloma, particularly for patients at greatest risk of disease progression?

Participants outside of the myeloma field also took note of lessons learned by the MMRF. Like other cancers such as leukemias or melanoma, a proportion of myeloma patients who may respond well to initial therapies are confronted with more aggressive forms of disease later on. Even worse is the case where patients have little to no response from the outset. It was clearly recognized that many of the techniques and initiatives the MMRF developed over the past five years are the benchmarks that other types of cancers are working to achieve as well.

In many respects we’re ahead of the curve in helping to inform scientists and research partners on how to proceed; the disadvantage is that there does not appear to be a ‘smoking gun’ that we can target in myeloma to help a large proportion of patients. With at least four and up to 10 different subtypes or versions of myeloma in patients – even when they are newly diagnosed, a truly comprehensive approach is needed to reach a cure.

The main takeaways, in this regard, fall into three main categories as we map our MMRF research plan over the next three years:

  1. Pursue a ‘three-pillar’ approach to get new treatments to patients: immunotherapies, targeted/precision therapies, and therapies from new classes/novel mechanisms
  2. Standardize access to and the tools used in identifying subtypes or versions of myeloma in patients during the course of their disease to provide the best treatments and speed new approaches, even in those with smoldering or the earliest forms of myeloma
  3. Develop and standardize the tools used to reveal how immune and targeted therapies work in myeloma, and in understanding how patients respond to therapy

A great deal of progress has been made in our understanding of myeloma and new ways to overcome this disease. With two new drugs approved in the last year, and the potential for double that number over the next three years, the horizon for patients is improving. However, the new research programs outlined above and the support to put them into action offer the most promise for long-term remission – and possibly a cure – over the next five years.

For all of the support that has led to our results thus far, and that which will enable the next breakthroughs, we are eternally grateful to our donors, patients, patients' families and all of our partners who make what we do possible.

Walter M. Capone
Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation