CURE interviewed Thomas Prebet to gain insight into the importance of supportive care in myelodysplastic syndrome.
The proper administration of supportive care can have a significant impact on long-term outcomes, including improvements in overall survival, for patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), according to Thomas Prebet, the assistant director of myeloid malignancy research at Yale Cancer Center.
CURE interviewed Prebet to gain insight into the importance of supportive care in this disease.
CURE: How does supportive care factor into the treatment of patients with MDS?
Prebet: Most patients with MDS are treated with supportive care, including transfusion, hematopoietic growth factors and iron chelation therapy. This is the standard of care for the majority of patients with MDS.
Basically, supportive care is the basis for any kind of treatment that we want to give to these patients. The way we deal with supportive care could have an impact on survival and quality of life of these patients. Interestingly, it’s not only a quality of life issue but also a survival issue. If you optimize the way you give transplant and if you optimize the way you give hematopoietic growth factors for these patients, you may have an impact on survival.
How does iron chelation therapy factor into the care of a patients with MDS?
For iron chelation therapy, it’s a hot topic in the field of MDS. Basically, any patient who needs chronic transfusions may need to be chelated. We know that patients with transfusion dependency will develop iron overload, and will usually have a worse outcome. We know from different studies that the correction of this iron overload can reverse this and improve outcomes.
We need to be careful with what we call supportive care because most of the methods that we have may have some impact on the patient’s outcome. Supportive care is more than supportive in this group of patients, especially when it comes to transfusions.
What are some of the criteria you use for administering chelation therapy?
Chelation is a supportive care method that should be synced with objectives. Usually, we use chelation therapy for patients who have been transfused with more than 20 units of red cell over the period of a few months or a few years. Some criteria for ferritin levels can be debated.
The situation can be different for a patient who is younger — whom you think might be good for transplantation — who you want to optimize for transplantation. A physcian may overload with transfusions, needing chelation. On the other end, if that physician has an older patient above 95 years, he or she may not need to go to chelation. All risks and benefits should be considered.
The next question facing this process is treatment selection. There are two agents approved for iron chelation: deferoxamine, which is administered intravenously and subcutaneously, and can be really complicated form a logistic point of view and can be associated with side effects. The second approach is, Exjade (deferasirox), which was approved earlier this year.
This agent is easier to handle compared with infusions every day, which was the basis with deferoxamine. It was associated with some important side effects; it could lead to transient renal blockade, serial diarrhea, and some other side effects. It is a good medication and is easier to handle than deferoxamine. It's something that needs to be monitored quite severely in the first month of treatment so that the way the drug is given can be adapted.
There can be such a big focus on the treatment aspect — which agent they are receiving, Revlimid (lenalidomide) or some other treatment — that side effects can be overlooked. There needs to be education on the supportive care aspect as well. Education on chelation therapy is important.
What are the benefits of new formulation of Exjade?
The new formulation is easier in the sense that it’s just a pill as compared to the former formulation that was a kind of syrup to drink. The new formulation also comes with fewer gastrointestinal side effects and the efficacy seems to be at least equivalent.
One of the things that’s important is if you look at the last clinical trial of Exjade, for example, most of the patients don’t have six months of treatment because they have to stop treatment due to side effects. One of the findings from these studies is that, the better the patient is chelated, the better the outcome is. So if this new formulation improves tolerance and compliance to the treatment, we may even have a better efficacy of the treatment and better outcome. But this still needs to be proved.
The trend for the moment, at least what is expected or logical, is that this new formulation will result in better compliance and better efficacy for patients.
What can be done to help patients manage their disease?
I think the most important thing is that MDS should be considered a chronic disease. It’s sometimes hard to keep focus on all the aspects, especially transfusions. It’s patients that you see every week or every two weeks for more than six months, and we need to be aware and reactive and, in some cases, proactive in order to avoid the complications that can come with transfusions and to try to improve the quality of life of these patients.
Medications that we’re using for supportive care can still have some side effects so we need to follow up with these patients, especially in the first month of treatment.
What are some of the challenges in treating patients with MDS?
There are two groups of patients: those with low risk MDS and those with high risk MDS. Patients with low-risk MDS have a low risk of progression to acute myeloid leukemia. These patients are the ones with long follow-ups over multiple years and for which we have these issues of dealing with long-term treatments and long-term transfusions. In this group of patients, the objective will be to optimize quality of life.
One of the challenges here is that for moment we don’t have any curative treatments, except bone marrow transplantation. And this is only applicable to a minority of patients, for multiple factors, but also since the average age of patients is 70 years.
Another challenge is focused on the other group of patients, which are those with high-risk MDS, or those that are likely to progress to leukemia. These patients have short survival. If you don’t treat them, the survival will be around 15 to 20 months. With treatment, you can go to a median survival of two years.
We have tried to have effective treatments with this group of patients. But even for patients that have response with treatment, we are still dealing with the issue that we don’t have any definitive treatment. We know that at one point or another, patients will relapse or progress.