The International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) has announced new funding for the first comprehensive screening study that aims to prevent myeloma before it develops.
The funded study, titled “iStopMM (Iceland Screens Treats or Prevents Multiple Myeloma),” will examine blood samples from 140,000 people in Iceland over the age of 40, seeking the earliest signs of the blood cancer.
Iceland is the ideal setting for this study, according to researchers, because nearly all Icelandic people older than 40 undergo routine blood tests.
Myeloma is a cancer of the blood plasma cells that is estimated to affect nearly 90,000 people in the United States and more than 200,000 worldwide. It is easily undiagnosed until it begins to seriously affect patients’ health.
“We are incredibly pleased to support the iStopMM project because we strongly believe that early treatment strategies could lead to the cure for myeloma,” said Dr. Brian G.M. Durie, M.D., in a press release. Durie is chairman and co-founder of IMF, and is now leading the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative, a collaborative project that aims to find potential pathways to cure myeloma. The initiative currently funds more than 35 myeloma research studies around the world.
The project’s leader, Dr. Sigurdur Kristinsson of the University of Iceland, will be obtaining informed consent from study participants over the next few months to screen blood samples for the precursors of myeloma, called MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance), in addition to smoldering myeloma.
While the majority of MGUS cases remain undiagnosed, 4 percent of people over age 50 are estimated to have MGUS.
“The impact of early diagnosis in a whole population is a very ambitious and challenging goal,” Kristinsson said. “With more potent therapies available with fewer side effects, it is very likely that treatment of precursor states will be shown to improve survival and quality of life in smoldering and MGUS patients.”
According to the company’s research and development director, Dr. Stephen Harding, the study’s initial screening phase will be the responsibility of Binding Site, a U.K.-based diagnostic assay maker that will use the Freelite immunoassays and automated electrophoresis testing equipment for the screening.
The molecular characterization of MGUS cases based on DNA sequencing of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow will be led by the study’s co-principal investigator, Dr. Ola Landgren, who serves as chief of myeloma service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
All individuals who are positively diagnosed with the precursors will be invited to enroll in a randomized clinical trial to identify the best strategy for treatment and to develop a new risk model for disease progression.
“The IMF is excited to fund this study, which will finally shed light on how we can stop myeloma at its earliest stage before it progresses into full-blown cancer,” said IMF President and co-founder Susie Novis Durie.