Conference Coverage

ASH preview: Key themes include tackling CAR T obstacles, sickle cell advances, VTE


Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies have garnered a great deal of attention given their “incredible efficacy” in treating B-cell malignancies, and new findings are taking aim at the drawbacks of therapy, such as the time, expense, and toxicity involved, according to Robert A. Brodsky, MD.

Dr. Robert A. Brodsky, director of the division of hematology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore

Dr. Robert A. Brodsky

One example, from a study slated for presentation during a plenary session at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology involves the investigational T-cell bispecific antibody mosunetuzumab, which targets both CD20 on the surface of malignant B cells, and CD3 on cytotoxic T cells, engaging the T cells and directing their cytotoxicity against B cells.

In a study (Abstract 6) of 218 non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients, including 23 who had already received CAR T-cell therapy and had relapsed or were refractory to the treatment, 64% responded, 42% had a complete response, and the median duration of response is now out to 9 months, Dr. Brodsky, ASH secretary and director of the division of hematology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said during a premeeting press conference.

“It’s basically an antibody using the patient’s own T cell to do what a CAR-T cell would do – [a] very exciting study and large study,” he said. “It is an off-the-shelf product, it completely gets around the problem of the time to generate the CAR T-cell product, and because it’s going to be much simpler and faster to produce, it’s likely going to be much cheaper than CAR T cells.”

The preliminary results also suggest it is less toxic than CAR T-cell therapy, he added.

Two other CAR T-cell therapy–related studies highlighted during the press conference address its use for multiple myeloma. One, the phase 1b/2 CARTITUDE study (Abstract 577) uses CAR T cells against the B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA) in the relapsed/refractory setting.

Of 25 patients treated with chemotherapy followed by CAR T-cell infusion and followed for a median of 3 months, 91% responded, two achieved a complete remission, and “many other responses were very deep responses,” Dr. Brodsky said, noting that the second featured multiple myeloma trial (Abstract 930) looked at bispecific CAR T-cell therapy targeting BCMA and CD38 in an effort to reduce resistance to the therapy.

“Again, very interesting preliminary results,” he said, noting that of 16 patients followed for a median of 36 weeks, 87.5% responded, the treatment was well tolerated, and progression-free survival at 9 months was 75%.

In addition to the “key theme” of overcoming CAR T-cell therapy obstacles, three other themes have emerged from among the thousands of abstracts submitted for presentation at ASH. These, as presented during the press conference, include new venous thromboembolism (VTE) therapies and approaches to research; inclusive medicine, with abstracts focused on age- and race-related issues in clinical trials; and new advances in the treatment of sickle cell disease. All of these have potentially practice-changing implications, as do the six late-breaking abstracts selected from 93 abstracts submitted for consideration for oral presentation at ASH, Dr. Brodsky said.

One of the “truly practice-changing” late-breakers is a randomized phase 3 trial (Abstract LBA-1) comparing the bispecific antibody blinatumomab to chemotherapy for post-re-induction therapy in high- and intermediate-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at first relapse in children, adolescents and young adults.

The study demonstrated the superiority of blinatumomab for efficacy and tolerability, which is particularly encouraging given the challenges in getting relapsed ALL patients back into remission so they can undergo bone marrow transplant, Dr. Brodsky said.

Of 208 patients randomized, 73% vs. 45% in the blinatumomab vs. chemotherapy arms were able to get to transplant – and therefore to potential cure, he said.

“Of note, the blinatumomab arm was less toxic and there was marked improvement in disease-free and overall survival, so this is clearly going to become a new standard of care for relapsed and refractory ALL,” he added.

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