Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that develops in plasma cells within the bone marrow. Plasma cells produce antibodies and play an important role in the body’s immune system function. For people with multiple myeloma, abnormal plasma cells grow uncontrollably and crowd out healthy cells, including other types of white blood cells, platelets and red blood cells, which can lead to bone and calcium issues, low blood counts, kidney problems and infections.
Immunotherapy can be used for multiple myeloma treatment and is often recommended as part of first line therapy, or after stem cell transplantation as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Immunotherapy, which is sometimes referred to as biologic therapy, is designed to help the immune system identify and attack cancerous cells.
Types of immunotherapy used for multiple myeloma treatment
There are a number of immunotherapies, each working in a slightly different way. The specific types of immunotherapy that can be used for multiple myeloma treatment include:
- Immunomodulatory agents (IMIDs): These agents exert their biologic effect against myeloma partly by stimulating the patient’s own immune cells. These are agents are commonly used as part of first line therapy in combination with other anti-myeloma agents, in the maintenance setting after stem cell transplantation, and for the treatment of relapsed or refractory myeloma patients
- Checkpoint inhibitors – The immune system has a set of molecules (checkpoints) that regulate its ability to find and destroy abnormal cells. By blocking the molecules that limit the immune system’s response or activating the molecules that enhance the immune system’s response, checkpoint inhibitors can help the body to more efficiently target multiple myeloma cells while leaving healthy cells unaffected. These agents are currently the subject of clinical trial investigations in myeloma and results are promising
- Monoclonal antibodies – Antibodies are substances produced by the immune system to fight off viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances. Myeloma researchers have found ways to produce synthetic antibodies in the lab, and these antibodies can help enhance the patient’s own immune system response and target myeloma cells. Two such monoclonal antibodies have been approved for the treatment of relapsed multiple myeloma and others are in development.
- Cellular Immunotherapy – T cells are the immune system’s "defender cells," which are responsible for finding and eliminating abnormal cells throughout the body. T-cell therapies, such as chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CAR-T), remove a patient’s T cells from his or her body, modify the T cells to recognize multiple myeloma cells as dangerous intruders, then reintroduce the T cells into the patient’s body to help fight the cancer. These exciting cellular therapies are the subjects of clinical trials in myeloma.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, patients can access the latest advances in immunotherapy for multiple myeloma, including immunotherapies that are currently available only through our clinical trials. Our dedicated research teams are continually investigating newer and more effective ways to use the body’s own immune system to fight multiple myeloma, with many of our efforts gaining national recognition for improving patient outcomes and quality of life.
Medically reviewed by, Jason Brayer, MD, Malignant Hematology.
To learn more about immunotherapy for multiple myeloma or any of the other advanced treatments available at Moffitt Cancer Center, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. Our hematologists and oncologists can help you explore your options; a physician’s referral is not required to request an appointment.