Precision Medicine Paves the Way for Exciting Treatment Combinations for Patients with Multiple Myeloma

December 25, 2019

Patients with multiple myeloma have a lot to look forward to in the treatment space thanks to precision medicine, but one treatment option alone will not cure the disease.

The future for treating patients with multiple myeloma is bright, but one treatment used alone will not cure the disease, according to Dr. Cesar Rodriguez.

At the 2019 CURE® Educated Patient Summit on Myeloma in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rodriguez, director of the myeloma and plasma cell disorder program at Wake Forest University, had the chance to speak to numerous patients with multiple myeloma on the current treatment landscape of the disease and precision medicine’s role in it.

This year, Rodriguez also participated in the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma program when he took a 10-day journey through the South American region of Patagonia with other multiple myeloma survivors and specialists. This journey allowed Rodriguez to have intimate contact with patients who have multiple myeloma and talk with them about the future of treatment for the disease.

In an interview with CURE®, Rodriguez explained the role of precision medicine in the treatment of patients with multiple myeloma and how he addresses common questions about it from patients.

CURE®: How has precision medicine changed the landscape of treatment for patients with multiple myeloma?

Rodriguez: Precision medicine has changed the way we treat myeloma in many ways, and that not only means that we are finding new therapy that can target specific areas of the cancer cells, (allowing us) to have more effective therapy with less side effects, but it also means that we can actually tailor therapy to an individual patient.

It's not just that we're developing new drugs that are homing in on the cancer cells, but it also is that we're taking some time to individualize the care based on each patient's needs, each patient's requirements, and the cancer that each patient has. We do know that multiple myeloma is not a one-stop, everybody-has-the-same-type disease; everybody has different variants, and within a person, there's different subgroups of myeloma cells that needs to be targeted in a different way.

What are some of the questions about precision medicine that patients might have for you, and how do you address them?

One of the questions that normally arises whenever precision medicine, or personalized medicine, or targeted therapy — all of these words are used interchangeably in clinic — (comes up) is: Will a new treatment that targets a specific mutation cure my disease, if I have that mutation? And that's a very valid question, because you would think that if we've designed a therapy that can target a particular mutation that your cancer has, that we would eradicate the cancer.

Yet, the reality is, I don't think that targeting one particular mutation is going to be the solution to our problems. Myeloma is composed of many subgroups of myeloma cells within one patient.

So, combining precision medicine with a therapy that we already have and targeted immunotherapy — that might give us a broader aspect of how we can target the cancer and have better control of it. Hopefully, by combining different targeted therapies with standard therapy, we might be able to eradicate the cancer. But the precision medicine or a single agent on its own is probably not going to be the solution for it.

What are some of the unique challenges from the use of precision medicine to treat patients with multiple myeloma?

One of the challenges of precision medicine in myeloma in particular is that myeloma tends to evolve as time goes by, and it's developing new mutations. And these new mutations can cause resistance to therapy. Even if we're using precision medicine that can target a particular mutation, if that cancer cell continues to evolve and mutate, maybe that particular mutation, or that target, might change as well, and then the therapy stops working.

That's a big challenge that we still have with precision medicine, that we need to figure out how we can factor that in whenever we're treating patients. So, resistance to therapy, despite (the use) of precision medicine, is something that we can potentially see.

What is the difference between DNA and RNA testing for patients with multiple myeloma?

The difference between DNA and RNA when it comes to cancer is a little bit different. We're using genes now to understand how cancer behaves. That's given us a lot of information about how we can potentially treat myeloma and how it normally behaves. A lot of doctors might say, “Oh, I'm checking your DNA, or I'm checking your RNA to see what information we can get from it.”

The main difference is, DNA is all the genes that we have in our body, and all the genes that are going to be in a cell and particular in a cancer cell. RNA are the genes that are actually used and expressed in those cancer cells. So not all the DNA is used. It's just the RNA portion that's going to be telling us what sections of the DNA are actually active and which ones are not.

Can you discuss some of the highlights from your keynote lecture at the 2019 CURE Educated Patient Summit on Multiple Myeloma?

The focus of the talk was on a few factors. One is that we've realized that treating myeloma patients it's not the same if I treat somebody here or if I treat somebody in a different state or in a different country. Humans are not all the same. We all are very unique. We all have very different characteristics and features, medical problems, social issues, environmental differences and walks of life. We cannot use one same treatment for all of us, because it's not going to be effective for all of us.

So, tailoring it for our different characteristics is one part of precision medicine. And then the other factor in my talk was the cancer itself. Myeloma is not just one cell type, where all the people who have myeloma are going to have the same characteristics. It's very variable, and within patients, there's variability, and there are different clones of myeloma cells in that same patient, and then each patient is very different in terms of how their myeloma is.

We've learned so much about cancer, and myeloma in particular, that we've now been able to identify different subgroups of myeloma cells within a patient, or between patients, that we can target and be more specific in how we treat. So, the goal of the talk was to let everybody see that whenever we are treating myeloma, we have to individualize the care to that particular patient.


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