In the U.S., nearly 180,000 people were diagnosed with a form of blood cancer in 2020, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma society. As clinical trials and research continue and intensify, physician scientists are gaining more insight into which patients respond better to immunotherapy versus chemotherapy.
Moreover, researchers are determining which patients might need a combination of the treatments, along with stem cell transplantation, said Guenther Koehne, M.D., Ph.D.,  deputy director and chief of Blood and Marrow Transplantation  at Miami Cancer Institute.
“There has been an explosion in research that has led to a rapidly evolving environment in the treatment of cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma,” Dr. Koehne said.
That multitude of research was evident at Miami Cancer Institute ’s Summit of the Americas on Immunotherapies for Hematologic Malignancies, the second annual gathering of the top experts in the field. Nearly 300 physicians and other healthcare providers attended the Summit.
“The Summit faculty are physicians who are overseeing many of these treatment breakthroughs,” added Dr. Koehne, who is course director for the Summit. “By sharing information in this format, we can move these developments to the patient bedside more quickly.”
Exciting advances in immunotherapy, the discovery of novel agents, and a better understanding of the molecular makeup of an individual’s disease are leading to revolutionary changes in the treatment of patients with hematologic cancers.
Dr. Koehne is a pioneer in “allogeneic stem cell transplantation” and immunotherapies, having developed a technique to manipulate donor cells to treat those with acute myeloid and lymphoblastic leukemia and multiple myeloma.
The manipulation of donor stem cell products prior to allogeneic stem cell transplantation diminishes the often-harmful “graft-versus-host disease” — or GVHD — complication of transplantation, explains Dr. Koehne. GVHD occurs when the donor’s T cells (the graft) see the patient’s healthy cells (the host) as foreign, and attack and damage them. GVHD can be mild to severe. In some cases, it can be life-threatening.
“I think one of the most exciting things about the work that all of us who took part in the Summit of the Americas do is that we are showing that treatments are becoming more sophisticated and more targeted to the individual,” Dr. Koehne said. “This is not one size fits all care. Every day we are learning new facts about how to choose and integrate the best medications and treatments for the specific individual. And we are finding new treatments for those with extremely complicated cases. This improves outcome and gives us hope.”
While this year’s Summit of the Americas on Immunotherapies for Hematologic Malignancies was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, next year’s should return in person in Miami.
The renowned group of physician/researchers who took part in Institute’s Summit of the Americas on Immunotherapies for Hematologic Malignancies, and their topics, included:
• Wendy Stock, M.D., the University of Chicago, who spoke on innovative regimens for older adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), particularly increasing the use of targeted immunotherapy drugs while decreasing chemotherapy agents which can be more toxic for the elderly than for younger patients.
• Richard Stone, M.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute, who discussed the importance of genomic classifications and mutations in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in order to better choose targeted drugs, including monoclonal antibodies.
• Paul Richardson, M.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute, who delved into next-generation therapies and novel agents to treat patients with multiple myeloma, highlighting the sequencing of triple and quadruple drug combinations.
• Adam Cohen, M.D., the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke about B-cell Maturation Antigens (BCMA), particularly for patients whose multiple myeloma has relapsed.
• Robert Soiffer, M.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute, who discussed how CAR T-cell therapy will be best integrated into the treatment landscape or even replace the use of stem cell transplantation in patients with diffuse large B cell lymphomas and other lymphomas.
• Robert Sackstein, M.D., Ph.D., Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Florida International University, whose laboratories are working on the more directed maneuvering of genetically altered cells that battle cancer, accelerating their movement to the sites they are most needed, thereby allowing physicians to administer lower doses of drugs and reduce toxicities.
• Paul Lin, M.D., Ph.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center, whose work on CAR-NK (natural killer) cells, which are more readily available than CAR T-cells, is showing promise in early studies and can be enhanced with the addition of a checkpoint inhibitor.