Exciting outcomes from CAR T-cell therapy have given leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients new hope. Now, multiple myeloma patients are seeing unprecedented and promising outcomes with these treatments, too.

Your Health | one year ago

Finding Hope for Patients with Multiple Myeloma

New treatments are improving myeloma outcomes, and this team is leading the way.

Multiple myeloma might not have a cure (yet), but Jeanne Hardy believes she’s gotten as close as medically possible. After 16 years of treatments at a center in Arkansas – she had three stem cell transplants and tried “every combination of drugs you could think of” – Jeanne entered a CAR T-cell therapy clinical trial at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute in July 2019. This summer, Jeanne will celebrate the two-year anniversary of being free of the disease without any further treatments.

CAR T-cell therapy is a promising therapy that, over the past few years, has offered new hope for people with cancers of the blood. With CAR T-cell therapy, T-cells – the workhorses of the immune system – are extracted from a patient, genetically modified to attack tumor cells, then reinfused into the patient. The therapy has been approved to treat some forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia, and clinical trials are now evaluating it as a treatment for other types of cancer – including multiple myeloma. The FDA approved one type of CAR T-cell therapy for multiple myeloma patients in March 2021.

Jeanne, who lives in Morehead City, N.C., was not only thrilled to enter the clinical trial, but also to know that the trial was offered close to home. She’d no longer need to travel far for her treatments.

“I’m grateful and blessed I was able to have the [CAR T-cell therapy] and that it worked. It shows the scientific community that this is good for multiple myeloma,” she says. “I didn’t just join the clinical trial for me, but I did it for everyone else [with multiple myeloma] after me.”

“For two years now, Jeanne hasn’t had to be on any treatments, and it’s amazing to think how patients in similar situations must feel: how good it must feel to have that quality of life back,” says Kimberly Walden, RN, who specializes in multiple myeloma care at Levine Cancer Institute (LCI).

Innovative Multiple Myeloma Care

Levine Cancer Institute has one of the largest multiple myeloma centers in the United States. The field of multiple myeloma is exciting, with outcomes steadily improving as research continually advances – and this team is among the first to embrace innovative treatments.

“Our team works very closely together, and members of our multiple myeloma division have representation and leadership positions on national and international committees,” says Saad Usmani, MD, the Division Chief of Plasma Cell Disorders Division at Levine Cancer Institute. “When patients come, they know that they’re being seen by a leader in the field who is giving advice based on the latest data out there, who’s part of a group that’s moving the field forward with innovative therapies.”

Multiple myeloma is not currently a curable disease, but it is a treatable one. Treatments include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and stem cell transplants. LCI also has about 30 active clinical trials, including phase 1 trials that bring the latest advancements – like CAR T-cell therapy – to patients like Jeanne. Multiple myeloma patients from around the country come to LCI for its expertise and treatment options.

“It’s really exciting to see all these new clinical trials come out and to see how well people respond to these new treatments,” says Holly Jones, RN, a clinical trials nurse at LCI’s Department of Hematologic Oncology & Blood Disorders. “I’ve been in this role for about five years, and it’s amazing how we’ve progressed in just those five years. I can only imagine what we're going to do in the next five years. It's very exciting.”

The multiple myeloma team includes medical and radiation oncologists, clinical and research nurses, specialized pharmacists, social workers and patient navigators. They all share a philosophy: Their job is not to just treat a disease but to also care for a person. That means they take extra time to get to know each patient, to meet their family members and caregivers, and to create relationships with them.

“I don’t think there’s a better team out there. They’re just tremendous. They are so caring, and they’re so concerned about you,” Jeanne says. “I feel like I have friends here, not just doctors and nurses.”

“When we see a new patient, we tell them that they are the most important person in the room. The next most important people are their family members,” Dr. Usmani says. “Everyone else – the doctors, nurses, research staff – we are the ones who are the supporting crew in their journey.”

Hope for a Cure

Now that Jeanne doesn’t need to travel for regular treatments, she has more time to do what she loves: sewing, baking, creating dream catchers, and camping with her family. She even designed a dream catcher for the multiple myeloma team at LCI, and they display it there. “They’ve done so much for me, and I wanted to do something for them,” she says.

But her smile is thanks enough, according to Dr. Usmani and his team. The fact that after 16 years of sometimes-grueling treatments, Jeanne is back to her family camping trips and personal projects offers this team plenty of reasons to smile, too.

“We have come a long way in this field, and I hope that we will continue to have many more success stories like Jeanne’s story,” Dr. Usmani says. “The next ten years, we’re going to work toward finding a cure for this disease. ‘Cure’ was a taboo word with multiple myeloma for a long time, but we can now think along those lines. I have a measured hope in that regard.”

Learn more about multiple myeloma care at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute, or call us at 704-512-2448 to make an appointment.