Multiple myeloma

Jean-Luc Harousseau, John Shaughnessy, Paul Richardson
Hematology—the Education Program of the American Society of Hematology 2004, : 237-56
High-dose therapy with stem cell transplantation (SCT) and novel targeted therapies (thalidomide, its more potent analogues, and bortezomib) represent two approaches for overcoming resistance of multiple myeloma (MM) cells to conventional therapies. While it is now clear that dose-intensification improves the outcome in younger patients, long-term remissions are obtained in a minority of patients. Therefore, the impact of novel agents as part of front-line therapy is the objective of ongoing trials. Gene expression profiling (GEP) will help to improve the management of MM not only by identifying prognostic subgroups but also by defining molecular pathways that are associated with these subgroups and that are possible targets for future therapies. In Section I, Dr. John Shaughnessy describes recent data obtained with GEP of CD138-purified plasma cells from patients with MM. His group has already shown that overexpression of the Wnt signaling inhibitor DKK1 by MM plasma cells blocks osteoblast differentiation and contributes to the development of osteolytic bone lesions. Recent data allow identification of four subgroups of MM in which GEP is highly correlated not only with different clinical characteristics and outcome but also with different cytogenetic abnormalities. In addition, abnormal expression of only three genes (RAN, ZHX-2, CHC1L) is associated with rapid relapses. In the context of intensive therapy with tandem autotransplantations, this model appears to be more powerful than current prognostic models based on standard biologic variables and cytogenetics. Understanding why the dysregulation of these three genes is associated with a more aggressive behavior of the disease will help to define new therapeutic strategies. In Section II, Dr. Jean-Luc Harousseau presents recent results achieved with tandem autologous SCT (ASCT) and with reduced intensity conditioning (RIC) allogeneic SCT. ASCT is now considered as the standard of care in patients up to 65 years of age. The IFM (Intergroupe Francophone du Myelome) has recently shown that double ASCT is superior to single ASCT. Current results of three other randomized trials confirm that double ASCT is superior, at least in terms of event-free survival. However, patients with poor prognostic features do poorly even after tandem ASCT. Strategies to further improve the outcome of ASCT include more intensive therapies and the use of novel agents such as thalidomide and immunomodulatory analogs (IMiDs) or bortezomib. Results of allogeneic SCT remain disappointing in MM even with T cell-depleted grafts. Preliminary results of a strategy combining ASCT to reduce tumor burden and RIC allogeneic SCT are encouraging, although the follow-up is still short. However, again, patients with chromosome 13 deletions have poor results with RIC. Longer follow-up of ongoing multicentric studies will help to clarify the indications of RIC. In Section III, Dr. Paul Richardson summarizes current knowledge of novel targeted therapies in MM. A better understanding of interactions between MM cells and bone marrow stromal cells and of the signaling cascades whereby cytokines mediate proliferation, survival, drug resistance and migration of MM cells provide the rationale for testing novel agents in relapsed/refractory MM. Increased angiogenesis coupled with the known anti-angiogenesis activity of thalidomide justified its use in refractory MM. The remarkable responses initially achieved prompted a number of clinical studies in different indications and the development of more potent IMIDs. Among them CC-5013 (Revlimid) has been tested in Phase I/II studies and a randomized Phase III study has just been completed. Blockade of NF-kappa B using the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib (Velcade) may mediate anti-MM activity by inhibiting interleukin (IL)-6 production in stromal cells and other mechanisms of action have been shown in preclinical studies. Based on the promising results of the Phase II trial, a large randomized trial of bortezomib versus dexamethasone has been completed. Studies of bortezomib combined with other drugs are ongoing. Arsenic trioxide has a number of properties showing that it targets MM cells interacting with the microenvironment. Clinical studies are ongoing as well. Other agents in MM have already been or will probably be translated soon from the bench to the bedside.

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