The FDA has given its blessing to a new targeted treatment for multiple myeloma. It's the latest drug to fight cancer with a patient's own disease-fighting T-cells. Normally, plasma cells make antibodies to fight infections.
"But in myeloma, the cancerous plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and then crowd out healthy cells," said nurse practitioner Heather Woods, CRNP.
Woods, who works at Fox Chase Cancer Center, said the rogue cells also generate proteins that lead to complications. Like low red blood cell counts, frequent infections, or damage to the bones or kidneys.
Dr. Henry Fung, who is the department chair of bone marrow transplant and cellular therapies, said multiple myeloma is fairly rare.
"We estimate there are about 30,000 new cases each year," he said.
That's about 75 to 100 cases a year in Philadelphia. It affects older people, men, and Black Americans more. Treatment usually starts with targeted drugs, followed by a stem cell transplant.
But a few weeks ago, the FDA approved Abecma, the first multiple myeloma drug using CAR-T cell therapy, the same technique which has revolutionized leukemia treatment.
"We would collect these T-cells," said Woods.
In the lab, Abecma equips the T-cells to recognize, latch onto, and destroy the myeloma cells. The enhanced cells go back into the body.
"Many of them still stay for six months and over a year, so they continue attacking," said Dr. Fung.
Right now, Abecma is only approved for patients who've failed four drug regimens. However, Dr. Fung has seen impressive results. So he hopes it will soon be offered to patients earlier.
"Patients can live longer, go to the grandkids' graduations, see them married, and enjoy them playing with the great-grandkids," he said.
Dr. Fung said CAR-T therapy can have serious side effects, but Fox Chase has been able to manage them so well some patients get their treatment as outpatients.
Moves in Medicine: New treatment for multiple myeloma