Multiple myeloma is a growing problem. In Europe, the number of people who will be diagnosed with this blood cancer is projected to increase 17 percent by 2025, according to the World Health Organization based on 2012 figures. With these rising numbers comes a greater burden on healthcare systems and society, not to mention patients.
Fortunately, treatment advances over the past 20 years are helping people with multiple myeloma live longer lives. The number of clinical trials in multiple myeloma has approximately tripled since the early 2000s, and in fact, this cancer stands out as a striking example of what medical innovation can accomplish. Between 1990 and 2011, five-year relative survival rates for patients with multiple myeloma increased more than 60 percent, compared with 15 percent for all cancers. Some innovative therapies may also help patient quality of life for those with multiple myeloma.
As we commemorate Blood Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Michael Zaiac, vice president Medical Affairs, Hematology/Oncology, at Celgene EMEA, discusses past successes and explains why it’s critical that innovation continues in the search for a cure.
What is driving the increase in multiple myeloma in Europe?
“People aged 65 and older are more likely to get multiple myeloma, and there are more older adults in the world than ever before. This is especially true in the Western world, where multiple myeloma is currently most prevalent. These trends mean we will likely see more and more cases of multiple myeloma.
“But patients may be able to have a different experience today than they had 20 years ago. Treatment options introduced since then are extending their lives and helping their quality of life.”
What impact does multiple myeloma have in Europe?
“Nearly 39,000 new cases of multiple myeloma are diagnosed in Europe each year. While most patients are elderly, 30 percent are between the age of 15 and 64 at diagnosis. Over 40 percent of multiple myeloma patients cannot work because of their disease, and another 23 percent were forced to retire early. Those are direct impacts on productivity. But the disease also has an indirect impact on productivity as elderly patients rely on family and friends for care, forcing those caregivers to miss days of work. We have had a real opportunity to reduce this burden with new and effective treatments over the past couple decades.”
How have treatment advances changed patient lives?
“Patients are living longer lives because of advances in the treatment of multiple myeloma. The five-year relative survival rates for multiple myeloma has increased more than 60 percent since 1990, which is a bigger improvement than we have seen for all cancers on average.”
Treatment advances have led to longer remissions for patients, suggesting a cure may one day be possible.
What is driving the rapid progress in multiple myeloma treatment?
“Innovation, without a doubt. And that cannot stop now. Even with the innovations over the past few decades, we have more to do. For example, the five-year survival rate (based on 2007-2013 data) for people with breast cancer is 90 percent; for multiple myeloma, it’s 50 percent. We cannot yet guarantee a cure for a single multiple myeloma patient, so medical innovation is a crucial, ongoing task.”
What new treatment approaches are being explored?
“At least 50 new treatment options for multiple myeloma are being studied in clinical trials, which is significantly more than there were a decade ago. We know the immune system plays a role in this blood cancer, and we have seen the success of certain therapies that act on the immune system and have built on it. Researchers are also looking at harnessing the power of the immune system through novel investigational immunotherapies, including CAR T-cells and bispecific antibodies.
“Additionally, combining different treatments allows for the targeting of different cancer processes simultaneously, and there are ongoing studies investigating various combinations of therapies. Finally, researchers are studying the benefits of different types of stem cell transplants.”
How hopeful are you that there will one day be a cure?
“I’m very hopeful for a cure. Treatment advances have led to longer remissions for patients, suggesting that a cure may one day be possible. Multiple myeloma cells are not all the same, so treatment combinations may be needed to make sure we eliminate all the cancer cells and do not give the disease a chance to come back. We are hopeful that, as research continues to advance our understanding of disease and the development of new approaches to treatment, the future may bring multiple myeloma patients a cure or may allow them to live very close to their natural lifespan.”
To learn more about how treatment advances are giving patients a reason to be hopeful, read “A Decade of Progress in Myeloma, and More To Come.”