Last week, I was in Sweden at the 23rd annual congress of the European Haematology Association (EHA). It is one of the biggest scientific updates of the year, with around 11,000 people attending.
The conference ran over three days (Friday to Sunday) and there were numerous sessions on at the same time. So impossible to hear everything and even more difficult to choose what to attend! Here’s a brief insight into some of the sessions that I did go to:
- Emerging AML Treatment Paradigm with FLT3 Inhibition
A complex title, but the session looked at how understanding of AML has progressed over time and how this influencing treatment.
From patients being grouped together and treated the same, AML is now subtyped depending on the genetic changes that have happened in the cells.
The increased understanding of genetic changes implicated in AML cells is helping to develop more targeted therapies. For example, midostaurin was recently approved in the UK, by NICE, for treating FLT3-mutation-positive AML and the clinical trial data was presented during the session.
- Combination therapy in CLL
Again, improving knowledge of CLL has seen the development of more targeted therapies. Now, clinical trials are assessing how targeted therapies can be used in combination with one another.
Data from the phase 3 trial, MURANO, was presented during the session, which is assessing the impact of treating relapsed/refractory CLL with venetoclax (a BCL2 inhibitor) and rituximab.
Some key conclusions that are currently coming from the trial are that the treatment regime appears to significantly improve chances of attaining MRD (minimal residual disease) negativity, meaning there is no detectable disease; many patients sustain MRD negativity; and MRD negativity can be achieved regardless of disease characteristics e.g. high risk or low risk.
- Patient Advocacy Sessions
One of my favourite parts of the conference was seeing the involvement and engagement of clinicians with patient groups from across the globe. Many of the patient advocates work to improve care in their disease area, alongside their normal work, and it’s great to see the impact and influence that they have. The sessions were incredibly popular, with room sizes being too small, and topics covering: the importance of patient report outcomes (PROs); and patient’s quality-of-life in relation to treatments, rehabilitation, and sex life.
- CAR strategies beyond CD19 (CAR-T Therapy)
A hugely popular topic for both patients and clinicians right now. Most of the CAR-T therapy sessions were full inside and had many people listening from outside of the room.
CAR-T therapy is the first gene therapy to be approved for use by the FDA (food and drugs association) in America and it looks as though the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will soon pass approval too.
The treatment involves improving patients immune cells (T-cells) to target and destroy the cancer cells. This is currently done by enabling the t-cells to recognise a marker called CD19 on the surface of the cancer cells.
The session that I attended was looking at how the therapy can be advanced, by identifying new markers that the T-cells can recognise and how different gene-delivery techniques can improve successful alteration of the T-cells.
This is just a very brief insight into four of the sessions that I attended, but this year Leukaemia Care felt it was important to relay the information being shared at EHA to you, the patients.
Having attend some of the sessions, much of the research and scientific updates were very detailed and complex to understand without a medical or research degree! Lost in jargon, it is easy to miss the importance of the research and what it could mean for patients in the future.
Through videoing the clinicians at the conference, we were able to share the updates using understandable language, express clearly what it means for patients now and in the future, and add any words of caution where hype about new treatments can be misleading.
There were some great topics covered by the clinicians, including CAR-T therapy, minimal or measurable residual disease, combination therapies, and cytogenetic testing. We will be sharing these videos on our social media and YouTube channels in the coming weeks. So, look out for the videos, enjoy the updates from EHA and feel free to share any questions or comments you may have.