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As we head into Fall/Autumn, clear planning is essential in order to protect ourselves from a potential COVID-19 infection, as well as from the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the flu virus.
 
Additionally, awareness of important new developments in myeloma research and treatments is key as well as inspiring stories to boost our resilience in facing day-to-day challenges. 
 

COVID-19 Updates

Several new COVID-19 variants are currently circulating, with EG.5/Eris as the dominant variant (24.5 percent of U.S. cases); FL.1.5.1 following at 13.7 percent of U.S. cases; XBB.1.16.6 at 9.9 percent; and BA.2.86/Pirola as a variant under monitoring (VUM) due to its concerning several mutations.
 
The good news is, updated Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are now available and have been tested to be effective in fighting against XBB lineage of omicron variants, including EG.5 and BA.2.86.
 
Currently, the U.S. government is still going through some supply issues and issues in health insurance coverage for the new COVID-19 vaccines. 
 
In a CNN report, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra has assured that they will be working hard to quickly resolve these issues. 
 
“We’ve heard these stories, and we’ve contacted the insurers. We’ve contacted the pharmacists, and we’re working with–and to make sure everyone understands how this works–you should not have to pay out of pocket if you are insured,” said Becerra, while adding that free vaccines are also available for the uninsured through the CDC’s Bridge Access Program. 

Additionally, guidance about reduced exposure and testing plus treatment can also be provided.
 
As we wait for these kinks to be resolved, I would still highly recommend scheduling and getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine at the soonest possible time. 
 
And while we’re on the topic of getting vaccinated, I would also strongly advise to schedule your RSV and flu shots with the recommended 10-day interval between shots. Talk to your doctor and go through the shared decision-making process based on your individual situation and risk status. 
 
As always, I also highly recommend the use of high-quality masks in high-risk situations of COVID-19 exposure. Avoid crowds and indoor gatherings as much as possible and be proactive if you test positive for COVID-19. 
 
Beginning September 25, the U.S. government will be relaunching its FREE COVID-19 test program. Each U.S. household can order four (4) FREE COVID-19 tests from COVID.gov starting Monday next week. 
 
Fortunately, current overall levels of COVID-19 infections are very low as compared to prior surges.  Although rates of hospitalization have increased, very few deaths are occurring, and most infections are very mild compared to the past. 
 
Nonetheless, practicing caution is still strongly advised.



Noteworthy Award

Gracell Biotechnologies recently announced that its Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer William (Wei) Cao, Ph.D, B.M. was named to the PharmaVoice 100—“a recognition of the most inspiring leaders in the life-sciences industry,” as stated in Gracell’s press release. 
 
As expressed by Dr. Cao in his speech: “This accolade not only reflects my personal dedication but is also an endorsement of the entire Gracell team’s commitment to developing innovative, next-generation CAR-T cell therapies designed to address the major challenges that have emerged in this space, with shorter manufacturing times and potentially improved T-cell fitness. It's truly inspiring to see the innovation and our collective efforts acknowledged and celebrated.”
 
As I have previously noted in my prior blogs, the new FasTCAR product in high-risk multiple myeloma patients has had excellent early results. This is definitely an important step forward as we await further study results. 
 
Meanwhile, the 2023 International Myeloma  Society (IMS) Awards will be happening on Thursday, September 28 at the 20th IMS Annual Meeting in Athens, Greece. 
 
I look forward to congratulating the recipients of this year's Waldenström Lifetime Achievement Award, Ken Anderson Basic and Translation Research Award, and Bart Barlogie Clinical Investigator Award.


Myeloma Drug Update



The study, In-class transition (iCT) of proteasome inhibitor-based therapy: a community approach to multiple myeloma management, was recently published in Blood Cancer Journal. Results of a new analysis indicated that ixazomib/lenalidomide/dexamethasone can allow prolonged all oral PI-based combination with promising efficacy and a tolerable safety profile. This is very encouraging.



 

A Tree of Extraordinary Resilience 

We all heard of the recent fires that ravaged the close-knit town of Lahaina and our hearts go out to those who have lost their loved ones and homes.
 
Hope, courage, and resilience continue to keep the townsfolk of Lahaina going—and its beloved 150-year-old banyan tree is the true testament to this resilience, as “new green leaves hint at the possibility of recovery for the tree and its community,” the New York Times recently reported
 
Badly ravaged by the fire, this much-treasured banyan tree has been a significant part of every life event of the people of Lahaina in the Hawaiian island of Maui. Some of the townsfolk feared that it might not live on.
 
However, “green shoots began to unfurl around the trunk of the community’s sacred giant; others sprouted from its branches between brown and withered leaves,” according to NY Times.
 
Through an Instagram video, Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources shared “positive signs for [the banyan tree’s] long-term recovery.” Arborists have been volunteering their expertise and time “to nurse the banyan back to health.”
 
“When we saw the first new leaves starting to pop on the canopy of the tree, that’s when we got really, really excited. For many locals, he added, its regrowth symbolizes “hope, and maybe some normalcy down the line,” said landscape contractor Chris Imonti to NY Times. Imonti has been “carefully tending” the tree for the past several weeks.
 
This amazing display of recovery by the banyan tree illustrates the extraordinary resilience of mother nature—giving much-needed hope to all myeloma patients. 
 

That said, new immune therapies have had phenomenal impact—providing an opportunity for deep remission and the re-establishment of a recovered immune system. 
 
Through the IMF’s various projects, such as the Immune Therapy Registry, we are learning the best methods and ways to use and sequence these new agents. Good quality responses have allowed resilience to kick in and patients have a shot at normalcy and a flourishing life. 
 
 


Image of Dr. Brian G.M. DurieProfessor of Medicine, Hematologist/Oncologist, and Honoree MD at the University of Brussels, Dr. Brian G.M. Durie is Chairman Emeritus and Chief Scientific Officer of the IMF. Dr. Durie is also the Chairman of the International Myeloma Working Group (IMWG)—a consortium of more than 250 myeloma experts from around the world—and leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative® (BSRI). 

 

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