Charting the best course for multiple myeloma

Progress Report Spring 2018 - Myeloma

Almost 2,900 new cases of multiple myeloma are diagnosed in Canada every year.

A common form of blood cancer generated in the bone marrow, multiple myeloma crowds out healthy 'plasma cells' that are used to fight infections. Treatment may involve a stem-cell transplant, and lifelong therapy can have a significant impact on a patient's quality of life.

Thanks to significant advances in the treatment of multiple myeloma, more and more patients are living longer with the disease. Yet there are increasing challenges in optimizing treatment plans from patient to patient because of its ability to adapt to and evolve around certain therapies. So despite advances in the treatment of multiple myeloma, its prevalence is increasing and it is still incurable.

Researchers in Alberta are hoping to change that and stay one step ahead of the curve. Dr. Christopher Venner, a hematologist at the Cross Cancer Institute, is currently leading a project that aims to better understand the experience of Canadian patients facing multiple myeloma and inform the direction of care going forward.

"I tell my patients all the time, don't be too focused on how we're doing now but focus on the advances we will hopefully make in the next five to 10 years as it will undoubtedly benefit you."

- Dr. Christopher Venner

As part of the Myeloma Canada Research Network (MCRN), Dr. Venner and colleagues from across Canada, have built a clinical database tool to determine clinical outcomes for patients using the therapies available here in Canada. It is the first of its kind and was created specifically for myeloma. The goal of the database is to inform researchers how they're doing, and how they can hope to improve treatment going forward.

Through this initiative and thanks to your support, Dr. Venner and his team were able to create the 'Provincial Database Initiative for patients with plasma cell dyscrasias.' Led by Venner, this tool includes 10 years of information from more than 1300 patients throughout Alberta. Because multiple myeloma can be treated like a chronic disease, this database will allow researchers to track clinical interventions in real time so that certain outcomes can be benchmarked, ultimately improving cutting-edge therapy plans for current and future patients. Before its existence, doctors would have to sift through paper copies of charts from other patients to see if a treatment worked or wasn't successful.

"From a patient perspective, this is extremely useful because it is the first time that researchers have had a robust snapshot of where we are in myeloma care," says Dr. Venner.

Because of your investment, this pilot program was leveraged to position Alberta as a lead province in the MCRN Canadian Multiple Myeloma Database initiative, chaired by Dr. Venner. Legacy data from participating Canadian sites will be uploaded onto a national platform with over 6,000 legacy patients expected to be included in the database and 10,000 prospective patients to be included over the next 10 years. This tool is also a cornerstone to a related national prospective study termed the Multiple Myeloma Molecular Monitoring (M4) study. With a $5 million grant from the Terry Fox Research Institute, researchers will be better able to chart the best course for clinical and translational research initiatives in Canada.

Using a locally-grown database to leverage the platform for this national database has resonated with Albertans facing multiple myeloma. Not only will it evolve the provincial myeloma program, but the opportunity to compare and contrast data across Canada will allow care teams to enhance and tailor treatment options to individual patients.

"On the international spectrum - Canada is punching well above its weight in contributing to multiple myeloma research. The technology isn't fancy - but it will have a lasting impact for Albertans."

- Dr. Christopher Venner

Thanks to Alberta Cancer Foundation donors like you, this province-wide clinical database has set the stage for an initiative that will continue to positively impact the lives of Albertans facing multiple myeloma.

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