Novel therapies are poised to dramatically change frontline therapy for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and they have the potential to replace chemotherapy, a hematologist/oncologist told colleagues at the virtual Acute Leukemia Forum of Hemedicus.
But more work needs to be done, noted Alexander Perl, MD, MS, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. While advances have transformed AML treatment in the relapsed/refractory setting, “we’re just not seeing that substantive improvement” for newly diagnosed patients, he said. “We need to find the disease-modifying drugs that work in the relapsed/refractory setting and move those frontline. That’s where we’re going to see the transformations.”
Research suggests that low-intensity therapy holds tremendous promise, he said, “with the idea that we could make therapy much more tolerable for the vast majority of patients affected by AML, who, as we know, are older patients.”
Dr. Perl highlighted the 2020 VIALE-A study – venetoclax/azacitidine versus azacitidine/placebo – which reported that “in previously untreated patients who were ineligible for intensive chemotherapy, overall survival was longer and the incidence of remission was higher among patients who received azacitidine plus venetoclax than among those who received azacitidine alone.”
Venetoclax promotes apoptosis in leukemia cells, Dr. Perl said. “To a certain extent, you can think of it as putting the rubber to the road in terms of what actually chemotherapy is designed to do, which is to make leukemic blasts apoptose. It does so without DNA damage and with much less toxicity to the patient. Therefore it can be added to any number of regimens – granted, with mild suppression, but with relatively little extramedullary toxicity.”
Dr. Perl noted that the venetoclax arm “showed a higher response rate than azacitidine in pretty much every subgroup that was looked at, whether patients had de novo leukemia, secondary leukemia, multiple mutational complements, various different karyotypes. The response rates on this study are as high as what we often will see with intensive chemotherapy.” He added that “the winning arm on this trial seems to hold up against any low-intensity therapy, and I would argue against many high-intensity therapies in older patients.”
As for other targeted agents, isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) inhibitors “are very promising drugs in the relapsed/refractory setting, which is primarily where these drugs are given. In regard to frontline treatment, “data are coming from a very small study, but they’re very encouraging. It’s hard to entirely say that we’re ready to change practice based on this. But it’s very encouraging – the idea that earlier use of a drug-targeting IDH mutation might lead to substantially better outcomes.”
Moving forward, he said, “we could put all of our eggs in one basket and use many active drugs [at] front line. Or we can perhaps be smart about sequencing these drugs one after another, or using more intensive approaches followed by maintenance approaches followed by more intensive approaches.”
This approach is similar to strategies in myeloma patients “who less and less are relying on an autologous transplant for durable control of their disease, and more and more are using low-intensity biologically targeted drugs,” he said.
The Acute Leukemia Forum is held by Hemedicus, which is owned by the same company as this news organization.
Dr. Perl reported numerous disclosures, including relationships with Daiichi Sankyo, Abbvie, and Astellas.