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The Importance of Clinical Research for Patients With Multiple Myeloma

Clinical research is critical in developing new therapies for multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable blood cancer that frequently returns after successful treatment.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of a person’s plasma cells, cells that fight infection and disease. This disease can weaken bones and damage organs and accounts for about 1 to 2% of all cancers diagnosed, and about 10% of all blood cancers.

Most patients will experience several remissions (when signs and symptoms of the disease are reduced) and several relapses (when the disease returns after a period of improvement) or recurrences throughout their disease course. Many are also told by their doctors they now have refractory disease, when it no longer responds to treatment. Symptoms of relapse may be similar to the initial onset of multiple myeloma, different or nonexistent.

Modern therapies have transformed multiple myeloma from a fatal disease to a chronic, manageable condition for many patients.. As with most types of cancer, early diagnosis and treatment help people live longer.

Clinical research is used for all types and stages of multiple myeloma. Many focus on potential new treatments and combination treatments to learn if they are safe, effective, and possibly better than the existing treatments. In general, these types of studies examine the following:

  • New drugs or treatments
  • Different combinations of existing drugs or treatments
  • New approaches to radiation therapy or surgery
  • New methods of treatment

Clinical research has played a major role in advancing the treatment of multiple myeloma, researchers say.  “As recently as 15 years ago, patients with multiple myeloma didn’t have many treatment options,” says Dr. Craig Cole, a hematologist at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “But thanks to clinical trials, many new treatments have been approved.”

“Multiple myeloma is twice as common in the Black community, and is twice as deadly in Black patients compared to White patients. While there aren’t specifics as to why Blacks are more likely to get multiple myeloma, it’s likely linked to a genetic cause that is the difference between the races,” says Dr. Cole.

Blacks account for 20% of multiple myeloma cases despite being 13.4% of the U.S. population and they are still underrepresented in clinical trials. Only 8.6% of patients in multiple myeloma clinical trials were Black, an unfortunate figure since it’s estimated that Blacks will represent almost 24% of cases by 2034.

“The number of African Americans enrolled in clinical trials of novel agents or treatments of multiple myeloma has been tragically low,” says Dr. Kenneth C. Anderson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  “When they have enrolled, their outcome to treatment with novel therapies has been the same or even better than other patients.”

Relapsed/Refractory multiple myeloma, or RRMM, describes when multiple myeloma comes back but doesn’t respond to the same therapies that worked before. These patients might consider enrolling in a clinical trial, such as this one from Takeda. The purpose of this trial is to learn if two different doses of an investigational drug are safe and how well they work in treating individuals with RRMM.

You might decide to enroll in a multiple myeloma clinical trial/research study if:

  • The treatments you’ve tried haven’t worked.
  • Your cancer has come back after treatment.
  • You want to contribute to cancer research and help other people with multiple myeloma.

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