Technology has turned Multiple myeloma from lethal to chronic

Moustafa Kamel Chief Medical Officer Janssen
Moustafa Kamel Chief Medical Officer Janssen

Johannesburg: Multiple Myeloma, a form of cancer that originates in the bone marrow, no longer has to be a death sentence. Cancerous cells come together in the bone marrow and crowd out healthy cells. (1)

Janssen South Africa Medical Affairs Director, Moustafa Kamel, said that treatment technology has made such significant advances that the condition, if diagnosed early enough, could be treated as a chronic disease rather than a potentially terminal circumstance.

He said: “Until recently, patients were limited to receiving bone marrow transplantation or chemotherapy.” Kamel added that targeted therapy, now available for patients with Multiple Myeloma, is far safer and is reliant on a different treatment regime.

Targeted Therapy targets proteins that control how cancer cells grow, spread and divide. It forms part of new technology called Precision Medicine. (2) Kamel said: “Targeted Therapy focuses just on the specific area that requires treatment, sends the cancer into remission and, should there be a relapse, a new treatment regime is introduced.” He said this way, the condition can be managed chronically rather than blasted with broader treatments like chemotherapy.

While Multiple Myeloma is less common than leukemia and lymphoma, the advances in managing the cancer represents a giant leap forward in science and, importantly, patient care. There are around 176 404 people worldwide that were diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma as recently as in 2020. (3) “Targeted Therapy can save a lot of lives,” Kamel noted.

Detected early, the five-year survival rate for patients with Multiple Myeloma is estimated to be approximately 77% for people who are diagnosed at an early stage. Thereafter, it slides to 55%.

Kamel added that another strategy is presently under investigation. He said that identifying Multiple Myeloma even before it manifests could save even more lives. The pre-cancer state in this instance is called ‘smouldering’ Multiple Myeloma, and while not all patients end up developing the condition, he said that identifying high risk patients and implementing even earlier interventions could ultimately lead to avoiding the cancer developing completely.

Kamel said: “There is a significant amount of research underway to understand cancer better and, concomitant to that, our own DNA and how genetic mutations that cause the condition originate. As we hone in on the various aspects of cancer and isolate cause and effect, treatment can become even more targeted and more effective. That is what we hope for every day.”