Tuesday, June 24, 2014

EHA 2014: Encouraging News on the Pneumonia Vaccine in CLL ( chronic lymphocytic leukemia)

In all the excitement about the research being presented at ASH and ASCO and EHA on the new therapies for CLL, it is important to remember that infection, mostly respiratory, is still the final grim chapter for most of us. 50-80% of all deaths in CLL are from infections with pneumonia accounting for 40%. Streptococcus Pneumoniae (the bacteria formerly known as pneumococcus) is the leading bad actor. CLL is after all a cancer of the immune system. Dr. Wierda and others are working on ways to reboot our immunity as detailed in this prior post from ASCO 2013, but that is the future, not our present reality.

IVIG can help by relying on the kindness of thousands of strangers loaning their antibodies to offer us passive immunity. It is potent partial fix, but it is expensive and temporary, and like any infusion, especially a pooled blood product, it carries risks.

Vaccines offer the promise of the more potent active immunity, where we form our own more durable antibodies. The problem has been that they usually don't work. We are wimps at working antibodies. Our clonal B cells mess up our ability to form antibodies. whopping 85% of us have low levels of immunoglobulins and our cellular immunity is not so great either.

But there may be some good news from an abstract presented at the annual meeting of the EHA (European Hematology Association).

Many of patients are all too well aware of our dismal response rates to most killed vaccines. Live vaccine such as the one for shingles or herpes zoster are contra-indicated. Because of our impaired immunity, we just don't form adequate antibodies when given a flu or other shot. And worse, we run the risk after being jabbed with a live attenuated or weakened viral vaccine version of the very agent that we are supposed to be protected against running amuck in our immuno-compromised bodies.

The late CLL champion and researcher, Dr. Terry Hamblin, suggested dual dosing of killed vaccines with ramping up our antibody formation by taking weeks of a histamine 2 blocker between shots. Not much data to back up the idea. He did review a 2007 paper on an earlier conjugated killed vaccine Prevnar 7. His post offers a nice complement to this for those wanting more background on the pneumonia vaccines.

We all miss the wisdom of Dr. Hamblin.

The CDC has a protocol about the optimum order and spacing of the vaccines, but that is really just making the best of a bad situation. Bottom line: best to get the new conjugated vaccine first.

This abstract from EHA 2014 is important because it provides some hope and some data for us who are so immune compromised.

A little background. There are two major commercially available vaccines to prevent pneumonia is the USA.  Pneumovax 23 is based on asking our humeral immune system to recognize and be ready to attack based on presenting a polysaccharide (essentially a long sugar) that will trigger our plasma cells (B cell are the precursors to these cellular antibody factories) to fight against the 23 most common flavors of pneumococcus. Prevnar 13, the newer vaccine for adults, is conjugated to a protein and is more alerting to our immune systems, though it cover ten less serotypes.

The data is encouraging. While 100% of the control (normal immunity) population formed antibodies predictive of protecting against future infections, a still impressive 58% of CLL patients did the same. Compare that to the old vaccine results of from near zero to 25% response rates.

As one might expect based on all the prior research, those of us who do the best are those who are early in our disease with the higher levels of antibodies.

It is more complicated. As the name implies, Prevnar 13 only protects against 13 of the roughly 90 subtypes of Strep. Pneunomiae and obviously none of the infections caused by other pathogens. Moreover, as the vaccine is more widely used in different populations, the prevalence of the various subtypes causing us misery switches away from those covered by the vaccine. Those clever bacteria.

Another concern is that there is certainly no guarantee that just because our antibodies doubled that we will still have the immune resources to fight off a dangerous infections. We need more than antibodies. We need organized and functional T cells, something we are often sorely missing.

This study did not show that we got less infections. That would be a much longer and more robust trial. This trial just showed that we formed more protective antibodies with the new vaccine.

And that is a helpful step forward.

So here is the take away.

We should get vaccinated as soon as we are diagnosed. Prevnar 13 is the better choice for the first jab, or even the second.

I have pasted the actual abstract from the EHA below, as I found their web site cumbersome to navigate.

Abstract Submission
6. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia and related disorders - Clinical
Marcin Pasiarski1, Agnieszka Stelmach-Goldys1, Stanislaw Gozdz1, 2, Ewelina Grywalska3, Iwona Hus4, Jacek Rolinski* 3
1Department of Clinical Oncology, Holycross Cancer Center, 2Faculty of Health Science, The Jan Kochanowski University, Kielce, 3Department of Clinical Immunology, 4Department of Clinical Transplantology, Medical University of Lublin, Lublin, Poland

Background: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a lymphoproliferative disorder associated with severe impairment of the immune system in a substantial proportion of patients. This is directly linked with an increase in susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections. About 50 to 80% of patients diagnosed with CLL die from infectious complications. Most infections in CLL patients is caused by capsular bacteria: Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae. Patients with CLL who have low levels of antipneumococcal antibody are particularly at risk for severe and recurrent pneumococcal infections. In the U.S. and in many EU countries, vaccinations against Streptococcus pneumoniae are recommended for immunocompromised patients, such as patients with CLL. For many years, 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV23) was used. Antibody responses to PPV23 vaccine are inadequate in most patients with CLL, that induced response only in about 20-25 % of patients. Since 2012, in the prevention of pneumoccocal infections in immunocompromised adults, 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) has been used that efficacy in patients with CLL has not yet been studied
Aims: The aim of this study was to assess the efficacy of vaccination in patients with CLL using PCV13.
Methods: The study included 24 previously untreated patients with CLL in stage 0 - 2 according to Rai calssification and 15 healthy subjects as a control group. The percentage of plasma cells, defined as CD19+/++IgD/CD27, was analysed before vaccination and 7 days after the immunization, the level of specific anti-pneumococcal antibodies and the level of IgG and IgG1, IgG2, IgG3, IgG4 immunoglobulin subclasses were evaluated prior to vaccination and 4 weeks after vaccination.
Results: The positive response to vaccination was defined as at least a two-fold increase in specific anti-pneumococcal (anticapsular) antibody titers as compared to the titer prior to the vaccination. Such a criterion of response was fulfilled in 100% of healthy subjects and in 58.3% of the patients with CLL. The percentage of plasma cells after vaccination was significantly lower (p < 0.0001) in patients with CLL comparing  to the control group. Both in patients with CLL as well as healthy subjects, there was a statistically significant increase in the level of IgG2 subclass after vaccination (p = 0.0301). The patients with adequate antibody response to PCV13 had significantly less advanced stages of CLL, higher total IgG levels and IgG2 and IgG4 subclass levels. There was no no significant vaccine-related reactions, no increase in peripheral blood lymphocyte count  and no changes in laboratory markers of disease activity.
Summary/Conclusion: Protective immunization of patients with CLL using the PCV13 is safe and induces an effective immune response in a large proportion of patients. To achieve the optimal postvaccinal response it is recommended to the use the PCV13 as early as possible after the diagnosis of CLL with determination of post-vaccination antibody levels.

Keywords: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Infection, Vaccination

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ASH 2013: Dr. Byrd Discusses Dinaciclib and the Need for More New Drugs to Treat CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia)

ASCO 2014 in Chicago was whirlwind with important updates to all of us with CLL.

Since returning a week ago, it has been an even crazier pace, but over the next few weeks, I will be sharing what I learned and what we CLL patients need to know.

While waiting for the processing of the audio and video material from ASCO 2014, I am finishing up by posting the relevant ASH 2013 interviews.

In the first on a three part interview with Dr. John Byrd, my personal trial physician out of Ohio State, we look at the drug, dinaciclib, a cyclin-dependent kinase (CKD) inhibitor, similar to flavoperidol, that arrests tumor proliferation.

Flavoperidol is a potent but difficult drug to administer with a very nasty attitude. For many with 17p deletion, it was their only chance at a remission.

Dinaciclib is a kinder gentler drug, with a better safety margin or "therapeutic index".

Dinaciclib also works independent of the 17p pathway and so has potent activity in that most difficult to treat population.

The ASH 2013 abstract is available here.  I attended the oral presentation on the last day of ASH 2013 in New Orleans. Dr. Joe Flynn, also out of OSU, was the principal investigator and just one of the nicest guy ever. Another great CLL doctor we patients are blessed to have.

So what did the phase 1 trial data on these 52 most difficult to salvage patients show us with this IV drug.

Its impressive efficacy of 58% is essentially the same (57%) in the 17p and 11q group. Responses were also very durable. Tumor lysis was a small but real risk and there was one case of sepsis. The most common side effects were low blood counts (leucopenia, anemia, and thrombocytopenia). That fits with  how it works as a CKD inhibitor.

Sounds pretty good, but I bet you have never heard of it. And it will probably never become commercially available, even though it helped nearly 6 out of every 10 of the worst relapsed/refractory patients with 17p deletion who until very recently had very few real options.

It likely won't be marketed in part because it's given IV, but more importantly, because the new oral agents such as ibrutinib and idelalisib and ABT-199 and others have similar or better efficacy with fewer risks.

The bar has been set very high.

It's a business decision. Merck who owns the patent on the drug must compare the outrageously high cost to get to this new molecule to market with the shrunken market share when and if does gets there. Makes perfect sense to stop the drug development from a corporate perspective.

While I understand that every company must make decisions that are sensitive to their long term success and viability, these decision are sometimes (such as in this case) not a good thing for us patients.

As we get near the end of this segment of the interview, Dr. Byrd discusses the early research on the causes of resistance in the few patients, especially the 17p patients, that do relapse on ibrutinb. (I will have more on resistance from ASCO 2014)

We patients needs as many options as possible to help us in those desperate circumstances. Dinaciclib could have been a potent option.

I am glad that ibrutinib and ofatumumab are approved and that idelalisib is getting very close.

But we mustn't stop there. The CLL battle is going well, but it is hardly won. This is no time to let up on the research and equally important, the commercial development of these novel molecules.

Don't leave us patients stranded on third base.

Listen to our conversation from Dec 2013 on this and other topics:

There are two more informative interview segments with Dr. Byrd from the last day of ASH 2013 that I will be posting soon.

I was going to write the CLL story is in evolution, but in truth it is in revolution.

It helps me to understand these rapid changes by reviewing all the research steps that lead to progress or to blind alleys .

Due to my lack of funding, technical problems and mostly the antiquated and wrong headed ASCO policy of denying bloggers such as me access to their extensive press resources, much of my material from ASCO 2014 may be audio only recorded off site as required or the video shared through joint efforts with my friend and fellow patient advocate, Andrew Schorr and his team at Patient Power.

Despite these challenges, I am excited to be sharing the developing news from Chicago earlier this month.

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