Foundation awards $21M in grants for multicenter myeloma research

MMRF seeks to foster collaboration, speed research to clinical trials

Margarida Maia, PhD avatar

by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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Two people hold a giant check.

Three research projects have been awarded $7 million each from the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) to develop more effective treatment options for newly diagnosed high-risk multiple myeloma and smoldering multiple myeloma.

Smoldering multiple myeloma is an early, slow-growing blood cancer that can develop into active multiple myeloma.

Valid for three years, the nonprofit’s Myeloma Accelerator Challenge (MAC) grants support research across multiple centers working together with the goal to move forward with strong hypotheses that can quickly be tested in clinical trials.

“The pace of research needs to accelerate if we are to address the significant unmet needs in multiple myeloma, and the way forward will take collaboration and funding,” Michael Andreini, president and CEO at the MMRF, said in a foundation press release. “Bringing together diverse teams through our MAC Grants that normally have many barriers to working together will bring greater focus and scale to these research priorities, yielding more timely and impactful insights for patients.”

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‘Strategic investments to generate robust molecular and clinical data’

George Mulligan, PhD, the foundation’s chief scientific officer, said “the MMRF makes significant strategic investments to generate robust molecular and clinical data and deliver translational research that drives better treatment options for patients.”

These grants, totaling $21 million, “are a critical new part of this investment,” Mulligan said, adding that “only through multi-center collaboration can we rapidly create a large set of patients and samples suitable for new research methods.”

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow and can spread throughout the body, causing a range of symptoms. It arises from abnormal, uncontrolled growth of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies.

Despite many treatment options, multiple myeloma is sometimes refractory, meaning if fails to respond well to treatment, and often relapsing, meaning it recurs (comes back) after response to one or more lines of treatment.

Developing more effective first-line treatment options is particularly important for people newly diagnosed with high-risk multiple myeloma, which is more likely to recur or spread, resulting in lower survival rates.

Optimization of first-line therapy for this subgroup of patients is part of MMRF’s strategic priorities, and two of the grants were given to research projects focused on this goal.

Analyzing patient samples to understand what drives high-risk myeloma

The first will be co-led by Samir Parekh, MD, director of translational research in multiple myeloma at Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute, in New York, and Brian Brown, PhD, who directs the Icahn Genomics Institute at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine.

“Advances in immunotherapy and novel agents have improved long-term outcomes for most myeloma patients, but a subset with high-risk newly diagnosed myeloma have early disease progression and inferior outcomes,” Parekh, who is also co-leader of the cancer clinical investigation program at The Tisch Cancer Institute, said in a Mount Sinai press release.

Heading up a group of researchers from institutions like Albert Einstein Medical College, Hackensack University Medical Center, Stanford University Medical Center, University of California San Francisco, and Washington University in St. Louis, the scientists will examine a large number of patient samples at genetic, protein, and immune levels.

The pace of research needs to accelerate if we are to address the significant unmet needs in multiple myeloma, and the way forward will take collaboration and funding.

The goal is to uncover the full landscape of differences between high-risk and standard-risk multiple myeloma using advanced technology. If successful, these studies may provide insight into what drives faster myeloma progression and resistance to treatment.

“Through this endeavor, we expect to identify the genes responsible for high-risk myeloma growth and resistance to immunotherapy, as well as to identify novel targets for cellular therapy and bispecific antibodies,” Brown said. Bispecific antibodies are those targeting two molecules at the same time.

Sundar Jagannath, MD, director of the Tisch Cancer Center’s Multiple Myeloma Center of Excellence, said “ultimately, our research network stands to greatly improve our comprehensive understanding of high risk myeloma and rapidly translate this knowledge into next-generation clinical trials for patients who desperately need novel therapeutic strategies.”

Working toward definition of high-risk multiple myeloma

Through a European network of institutions, Pieter Sonneveld, MD, PhD, of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, will lead the second awarded project focused on high-risk multiple myeloma.

The multicenter team of researchers will work toward a clear definition of high-risk multiple myeloma, an important step in understanding why this type of cancer is less responsive to treatment and how to get around this barrier to develop more effective treatment options.

Identifying patients with lower-risk smoldering multiple myeloma

The third awarded grant will focus on smoldering multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that usually manifests no symptoms, but in about half of patients progresses to active multiple myeloma after five years. Improving the identification of this type of cancer is also part of the foundation’s goals.

Led by Sagar Lonial, MD, of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, a team of researchers will use advanced technology to analyze data from a large set of people with high-risk smoldering multiple myeloma.

The goal is to better define which patients are at lower risk of disease progression and more suited for early intervention or observation alone, and which treatment options are most effective.

The project involves a network of institutions including Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“The three exciting programs we selected each have potential to answer fundamental questions about multiple myeloma and help advance rational treatments for this cancer,” Mulligan said.