Wednesday, July 10, 2013

ASCO 2013: Dr. Wierda Discusses Immune Therapies in CLL

In this first of several interviews from ASCO 2013, Dr. Bill Wierda of MDACC discusses immunity in general (or lack there of) in CLL and how that relates to the coming immune therapies.

He starts by explaining the basic difference between passive and active immune therapies.

His candid review of the trials so far points out the recurrent disappointments in the attempts to develop active immune therapies.

The story with passive immunity has had more success.

Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) such as rituximab or alemtuzumab were the pioneers of targeted immune therapy and have in many cases improved outcomes when added to chemotherapy without significantly increasing toxicity. Newer mAbs hold the promise of even deeper responses with few of the downsides of traditional chemotherapy and may even prove to work well without the addition of cytotoxic chemotherapy. Already useful examples include Rituximab and Revlimid or lenalidomide (R2) and the combo of HDMP (high dose methylprednisilone) + Ofatumumab. Powerful therapies with no chemo.

GA101 or obinutuzumab, a third generation anti CD20 mAB had received breakthrough status at the FDA and may be approved before the end of the year. The early data suggest this is both a potent and well tolerated treatment, hence the rush to get it to the clinic.

Passive immunity also includes the exciting CAR-T therapies that Dr. Wierda discusses. These are still in very early trials, but a few cases such as those out of U. Penn have seen spectacular saves when patients had all but ran out of all conventional options.

Immune modulating drugs (IMIDS) such as lenalidomide are in the early days of studies to figure out how they fit into the therapeutic landscape, but are clearly active in CLL and may improve some aspects of our impaired immunity,

This segues to another topic that gets Dr. Wierda really excited.

He tells of his research into ways to improve our immunity, to reconstitute our lost ability to fight off infections and to search and destroy the earliest microscopic cancers before they can grab hold and cause problems. Infections and secondary cancers are what kill those of us with CLL, and Dr. Wierda is fighting for ways not only to knock out our blood malignancy, but to also prevent us from dying not from our cancer itself, but from the damage the CLL (and its treatment) have already done to our ability to protect ourselves from infections and secondary malignancies.

This interview is from ASCO 2013 in June in Chicago.

It was great fun working with Andrew Schorr and the dedicated team from Patient Power in doing these interviews. I am grateful for their efforts and support and the willingness of the doctors to share their work at such a busy conference.

Look for more CLL interviews here over the next few weeks and keep checking Patient Power for other interviews that Andrew and I did on other cutting edge treatments for different cancers at ASCO in Chicago. Many of these have direct implications for how CLL may be treated in the future.

Here is Dr. Wierda:

Tomorrow it will be a full six weeks since my last IVIG infusion and blood draw. This is the longest I have gone without IVIG in the last six years and the longest I have gone without lab test since my first year with CLL.

I will report from the infusion center tomorrow.

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