A new way to strengthen the body’s immune system to help it find and eliminate cancer is the focus of a clinical trial for multiple myeloma underway within the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network. 

“Multiple myeloma is a cancer of a particular type of blood cell — the plasma cell — whose main function is to help the body fight infection,” said Binod Dhakal, MD, medical oncologist, MCW faculty member and principal investigator of the trial. 

“With multiple myeloma, the cells function abnormally, causing kidney damage, bone damage and multiple infections.” 

Is There a Cure for Multiple Myeloma?

Multiple myeloma is incurable, and once it recurs, it becomes more aggressive and difficult to treat. Researchers are studying new drug therapies that may provide additional options to people whose multiple myeloma has relapsed or has not responded to standard treatments. 

Clinical Research Trial for Multiple Myeloma

“In this phase I trial, engineered natural killer cells, also known as NK cells, that can identify and attack myeloma cells will be investigated,” Dr. Dhakal said. “These manufactured immune cells, originally derived from a healthy human donor, are infused into the patient’s blood stream as an immunotherapy drug called FT576. The hope is that FT576 will kill myeloma cells with maximum potential.” 

The study is divided into two subgroups of patients. One group will receive FT576 alone. The other will receive FT576 combined with daratumumab, known to be effective in targeting myeloma. 

“We’re trying to understand the benefit of each modality — FT576 by itself or FT576 with the antibody,” Dr. Dhakal said. 

Determining safe drug dosage is a primary objective of the early-phase trial. 

“With this kind of engineered cellular therapy, we’re looking at side effects that may arise from boosting the immune system, such as fever, low blood pressure, low blood oxygen level (also called cytokine release syndrome), confusion, seizures due to neurotoxicity and effects on blood counts,” Dr. Dhakal said. “We want to make sure these side effects don’t happen and that patients tolerate the drug well.” Patients will receive regular blood tests that check for biomarkers, which are substances produced by cancer cells, and antibody levels. 

Once safety is established, the trial will enter the next phase to test treatment effectiveness. The nationwide trial is only available in Wisconsin through the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network. 

“When multiple myeloma comes back, it does so with a vengeance, and patients do not have a lot of good options,” Dr. Dhakal said. “But with newer therapies, it might be possible to achieve long-term disease control for many people."

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