Dana-Farber researcher To Co-Lead Stand Up To Cancer's New Approach to Multiple Myeloma

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Focusing on Precursor Conditions; Dream Team Aims To Replace “Watch and Wait” with Effective Treatments

Stand Up To Cancer announced a $10 million award to a Stand Up To Cancer Dream Team focused on revolutionizing the treatment of multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer of plasma cells, through early detection of precursor conditions before they turn into full-blown disease.

The SU2C Multiple Myeloma Dream Team will be led by Irene Ghobrial, MD, associate professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston and co-director of the Center for the Prevention of Progression of Blood Cancers at DFCI, with Ivan M. Borrello, MD, associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Cell Therapy and GMP Biologics Core at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, as co-leader.

“We tell people with precursor conditions that we will ‘watch and wait’ until it turns into multiple myeloma, with multiple tumors that can potentially cause organ damage,” Dr. Ghobrial said. “That’s like telling people with breast cancer or colon cancer that we are not going to do anything until the cancer metastasizes throughout the body.”

“We want to change that,” she said.

The announcement of the new SU2C Multiple Myeloma Dream Team was made at a special event during the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), SU2C’s Scientific Partner. The Dream Team is the 23rd announced by SU2C since its inception in 2008 and the first SU2C Dream Team devoted entirely to a hematologic malignancy.

The project will involve what is believed to be the first large-scale population survey in the United States for precursor conditions of multiple myeloma, specifically monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or smoldering multiple myeloma (SMM). Blood samples from approximately 50,000 people, recruited largely through social media, will be analyzed to find what is expected to be about 3,000 with the precursor conditions, which cause no symptoms and are usually detected only when a physician orders a blood test for another reason.

Because it is unclear how to tell whether someone with MGUS or SMM will progress to full-blown multiple myeloma, the research team will follow those with the precursor conditions and will use the samples to discover biomarkers that will help predict those with a high risk of progressing. The team will also work to develop treatments for high-risk SMM and multiple myeloma.

“This Dream Team significantly expands our Stand Up To Cancer portfolio,” stated SU2C President and CEO Sung Poblete, PhD, RN. “These efforts embody the central hallmarks of Cancer Interception, as the scientists are seeking the earliest possible diagnosis of MGUS or SMM, and then proactively intervening to stop the progression of multiple myeloma.”

The target population for the survey includes people with first-degree relatives who have had multiple myeloma, and African-Americans, since African-Americans are three times more likely than whites to develop the precursor conditions, and tend to develop them at an earlier age.

Websites will allow people who have the specified characteristics to sign up for the survey, provide their consent, and obtain a sample kit which their doctors can use to draw blood samples and send the samples to the research team. 

“This Dream Team’s work has the promise of significantly changing the way we approach multiple myeloma,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Nobel laureate, and chair of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee. “This is the type of forward-looking research that Stand Up To Cancer is very glad to support.”

In addition to Ghobrial and Borrello, the Dream Team will include:

  • Joseph Mikhael, MD, associate professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic Arizona;
  • Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, professor of epidemiology, DFCI;
  • Jeremiah A. Johnson, PhD, associate professor of chemistry, MIT;
  • Lorelei Ann Mucci, MPH, DSc, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health;
  • Gad Getz, PhD, director of cancer genome computational analysis, Broad Institute, and
  • Viktor A. Adelsteinsson, PhD, group leader, Blood Biopsy Team at the Broad Institute.

Serving as patient advocates on the Dream Team, representing the concerns of multiple myeloma patients, are Cheryl Boyce, executive director emeritus of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, and Jenny Ahlstrom, president and founder of the Myeloma Crowd, a division of the Crowd Care Foundation. Both are multiple myeloma patients themselves.




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