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Project unites experts across Canada to find new hope for patients with incurable multiple myeloma

When Dr. Tony Reiman is looking for inspiration for his TFRI-funded project on multiple myeloma, he thinks of patients he’s lost to the deadly, incurable cancer that affect the blood and bone marrow.

“I’ve always found it’s the patients who are destined not to survive their disease that provide me with the strongest motivation to find ways to help do them do better,” says the medical oncologist and professor at the University of New Brunswick.

“Currently, patients are all treated and monitored the same way. For patients for whom treatment fails, we need to be able to find new ways of doing things to change that.”

Dr. Reiman is leading the pan-Canadian project Multiple Myeloma Molecular Monitoring (M4 study), which is comprised of researchers and clinicians at multiple sites including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Between 2,000 and 3,000 Canadians are diagnosed with multiple myeloma each year – and only 40 per cent of patients are alive after five years, with many living just months after diagnosis.

Despite being a heterogeneous disease, multiple myeloma is currently treated and monitored the same way for each patient. The M4 team will work with more than 250 patients across Canada to advance the ability to characterize and monitor multiple myeloma in the blood and the bone marrow to better understand how current treatments work and develop new, more effective ones.

“We’re working with sensitive newer techniques to better understand characteristics of the disease that escape our treatments and persist, even during clinical remission, that are going to eventually cause the patient to have a relapse, so we can find better ways to kill those cancer cells that survive the initial treatment,” says Dr. Reiman.

His team in Saint John is organizing all the participating centres as well as conducting its own research. It will also receive and bank specimens (blood and marrow) from the myeloma patients that will participate in the project. M4 study team members across the country will use tests based on advanced techniques like immunoglobulin gene sequencing, multiparameter flow cytometry, PET scans, circulating tumour DNA analysis, and novel drug resistance assays to evaluate the patient specimens and other biosamples.

“I’m hoping that at the end of the five-year term for this project we’ve learned better ways to manage myeloma patients using some of these cutting-edge laboratory tools, and that we’ve got some promising new technologies that we can continue to work on to bring informed advances for patients,” says Dr. Reiman, noting he believes this research will greatly impact current standard of care and even have a global impact.

“We’re very excited and honoured that the TFRI has shown interest and willingness to partner with us on this important work. It’s going to require the commitment of a lot of people, doctors, patients, researchers, and cancer centres, and we believe that together we can do great things.”