Stadtmauer Spotlights the Explosion of BCMA-Directed Therapies in Multiple Myeloma

January 14, 2021
Erica DiNapoli
Erica DiNapoli

Erica DiNapoli is an Assistant Editor for OncLive®. She joined the company in 2020 and now assists in editing and publishing both videos and informational articles to the website; she also helps manage the social media platforms. Prior to joining MJH Life Sciences, she was a student at Monmouth University and held two marketing internships at United Teletech Financial Federal Credit Union and Trendsetter Media & Marketing.

Edward A. Stadtmauer, MD, highlights the emergence of several BCMA-directed therapies, such as monoclonal antibodies, antibody-drug conjugates, and bispecific antibodies, and how outcomes for patients with multiple myeloma have improved significantly.

With the emergence of several BCMA-directed therapies such as monoclonal antibodies, antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), and bispecific antibodies, outcomes for patients with multiple myeloma have improved significantly, according to Edward A. Stadtmauer, MD, who added that efforts are now focused on ways to improve on the efficacy observed with CAR T-cell therapy.

“BCMA, as a target, is a major development that has truly exploded over the past couple of years. It [has gone beyond] naked antibodies, like daratumumab [Darzalex] and elotuzumab [Empliciti],” said Stadtmauer.“We now have ADCs. Our first FDA approved BCMA-directed immunotherapy was belantamab mafodotin-blmf [Blenrep], which has been very active with low toxicity, except for ocular [effects]. Moreover, a host of BCMA-directed agents, such as the bispecific antibody teclistamab [JNJ-7957], and CAR T-cell products [have also emerged].”

In an interview with OncLive® during the 2020 Institutional Perspectives in Cancer webinar on Hematology, Stadtmauer, section chief of Hematologic Malignancies, and Roseman, Tart, Harrow, and Shaffer Families’ President’s Distinguished Professor, at the University of Pennsylvania, highlighted recent developments with immunotherapy in the multiple myeloma treatment paradigm.

OncLive®: What is the current state of immunotherapy in multiple myeloma?

Stadtmauer: Over the past 5 years, immunotherapy has become one of the most exciting areas in multiple myeloma treatment. The original immunotherapy [approaches] in this space were the immunomodulating agents like lenalidomide [Revlimid], pomalidomide [Pomalyst], as well as iberdomide [CC-220], which is an investigational next-generation therapy. All these [agents appear] to modulate the immune microenvironment.

In addition, the development of monoclonal antibodies has been particularly exciting, such as the CD38-directed monoclonal antibody daratumumab and the SLAMF7 monoclonal antibody elotuzumab; these have become up-front approaches. Notably, daratumumab is similar to rituximab [Rituxan] in that it improves every [regimen] that it’s added to.

Could you discuss the impact that the subcutaneous (SC) formulation of daratumumab has had on the treatment paradigm? Are there any challenges? 

Daratumumab is very active but toxicity could be experienced after receiving the first dose, such as allergic reactions, fevers, shaking, and chills. As a result, this requires pre-medication and slow infusions that can occasionally take up to 8 hours. In addition, the first dose is often split into 2 days. With subsequent dosing, you can usually administer the therapy faster but, traditionally, about 90 minutes is the fastest that it can be infused.

The SC use of daratumumab has truly been a medical breakthrough in that it's utilized with an enzyme that allows the agent to infuse safely and quickly into the SC tissue. Although it’s a 5-minute infusion, it’s still much faster than the intravenous [IV] infusions. Great studies have shown that there is no difference with regard to efficacy between the SC and IV formulations. Moreover, we discovered that there is much less toxicity with the SC infusion. As such, there are advantages with the SC formulation in terms of convenience and toxicity without any loss of efficacy.

You mentioned that BCMA is a very important target in myeloma. Are there any other emerging targets under investigation that you are excited about?

One area of interest is the Fc-directed bispecific antibodies, which was another big headline at the 2020 ASH Annual Meeting & Exposition. This is a bispecific antibody with a different target, where CD3 activates the T cells. High activity was observed [with this kind of agent] in a phase 1 trial; about 60% of patients responded to treatment.

Although we are seeing great activity with agents that target CD38 and BCMA, even in heavily pretreated patients, they still don’t appear to be curative. Therefore, when patients relapse, having other targets to go after will be beneficial. The FcR target is a very active and preliminary reasonable target for that group of patients.

Belantamab mafodotin has been an important addition to the treatment arsenal. Could you expand on some of the nuances associated with this agent?

This has really been a next-generation agent. When administering this drug to heavily pretreated patients, about one-third of patients will experience nice responses. Those who respond seem to have long-term responses, which makes the agent unique. Moreover, what makes this option very convenient is that it is given in an every 3-week dosing infusion, which averages to about every 6 weeks. However, the drug does have unique toxicity, which is keratopathy. As such, this therapy requires an extra step in that an ophthalmologist needs to examine the eyes prior to each dose of treatment. This was done during the clinical trials.

Notably, if you do that and notice grade 2 or higher keratopathy and hold the dose [for 3 weeks], the toxicity can be reversible in the majority of patients. In addition, the responses to therapy are not lost due to the delay. As such, I believe this is a great addition to the multiple myeloma [treatment arsenal]. Ongoing clinical trials are now trying to determine what the safety profile and efficacy looks like when other agents are added to this agent.

BCMA-directed CAR T-cell therapy is another important focus of research. What is some of the work that is being done right now with this approach in myeloma?

Many BCMA-directed CAR T-cell agents are currently being explored in clinical trials and were presented during the 2020 ASH Annual Meeting & Exposition. From my initial review of phase 2 data that are beginning to mature, the story about the efficacy and toxicity between these products seems to be similar. There are nuances but, in general, the patients who are being treated are heavily pretreated. In relapsed, refractory, triple-class refractory, and 5-drug exposed patients, BCMA-directed CAR T cells have been shown to have an 80% to 100% response rate. The responses that we're seeing in these very heavily treated patients are remarkable.

The toxicities were what you would expect with a CAR T-cell treatment, such as cytokine release syndrome [CRS], which was experienced by most patients. This was typically low grade but about 20% of patients had a high-grade case. Over the years, we have become very comfortable with the treatment of CRS and the vast majority of patients recover with minimal treatment required and low toxicities, as long as they're monitored closely. Moreover, a lower incidence, but a real incidence of neurotoxicity [is also observed]. Again, high-grade neurotoxicity is very infrequent, and the vast majority of patients were able to recover. Cytopenias are also noted; this is usually from the lymphodepleting chemotherapy that the patients received prior to CAR T-cell therapy.

The response rates are remarkable; however, the durability of response remains an issue with these products. The great news is that there are patients who are still responding to CAR T cells after 2-3 years. However, when conglomerating these studies, the average patient responds for about 1 year.

about 1 year or so with a single infusion. More importantly, when compared with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and acute lymphocytic leukemia data, there does not seem to be a plateau in the curve. There seems to be a continued progression in myeloma BCMA-directed CAR T cells.

Most of the work that we're doing now is focused on determining how we can improve on this even further. A few questions remain. Should we do this procedure earlier in the course of the disease rather than waiting for a patient's disease to become very resistant? Should we do it earlier so that we have healthier and more potent T cells? Should we combine the CAR T cells with other therapies that will enhance their persistence?

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