When Greg Tanenbaum’s beloved grandfather, known as Poppy, was dealt an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis and an estimated 48 hours to live in January of 2017, Greg and his family were devastated. Poppy was not only Greg’s grandfather; he was also Greg’s best friend and number one fan, present at all sporting events and family gatherings with a smile on his face and a joke to tell.
Dr. Gail Roboz and the Leukemia Program team at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (WCM/NYP) quickly sprang into action, treating Poppy with a therapeutic regimen meant to keep the cancer at bay and preserve quality of life. As a result, Greg and his family got an extra 15 months with Poppy, during which, Poppy refused to let leukemia stop him from doing what he loved.
Despite his fatigue, Poppy never failed to show up to support his 16 grandchildren at their various athletic competitions, even attending a state championship diving meet with his hospice nurse to cheer on one of Greg’s cousins.
“It’s been said that the best gift you can give someone is your time, because you’re giving them something you can never get back,” says Greg. “Poppy made it clear we were worth every second.”
Poppy passed in March of 2018, but not without leaving a powerful impact on his family.
Inspired by Poppy’s gratitude, perseverance and positivity in the face of cancer, Greg, a former college wrestler with little racing experience, decided to run the 2018 New York City Marathon in honor of his grandfather.
In partnership with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training fundraising program, Greg headed into the race backed by 160 donors and about $30,000, which he donated to the Leukemia Fighters at WCM/NYP to support the clinical and translational research efforts of Dr. Roboz and the Leukemia Program.
On marathon day, Greg knocked out the first 20 miles at an 8-minute mile pace before sustaining an injury that would make for a grueling 6.2 remainder. But just like his grandfather, Greg refused to quit.
“Running 26.2 miles is time consuming and difficult,” says Greg. “But my ‘why’ was the most incredible person I was so lucky to know and love.”
Our Leukemia Program researchers and physicians made a huge splash at this year’s American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting and Exposition, an educational gathering of over 25,000 clinicians and scientists from around the world who are working to conquer blood disease.
Our team was involved in over 40 study abstracts presented at the meeting, helping to advance the overall understanding of leukemia, as well as improve clinical outcomes and quality of life for those affected by the disease. Here are some highlights:
Drs. Pinkal Desai, Duane Hassane and research colleagues discovered a relationship between specific gene mutations and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) risk, enabling prediction of disease up to a decade prior to its development. Their research was selected for inclusion in the upcoming Highlights of ASH Meeting in January 2018.
Dr. Sangmin Lee presented research on a drug showing promise in people with refractory myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).
Two Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian hematology/oncology fellows made contributions to acute myeloid leukemia (AML) research. Dr. Ghaith Abu-Zeinah compared the efficacy and side effects of plasma and cryoprecipitate given to AML patients to treat and prevent bleeding, and Dr. Jorge Monge explored ethnic disparities in medicine by studying the difference in mutation rates between Hispanic and Non-Hispanic AML patients.
Franco Izzo, PhD, had the highest-scoring abstract in the post doctoral fellow category and was chosen for the ASH Outstanding Abstract Achievement Award.
Drs. Gail Roboz and Monica Guzman were also tapped as special session speakers for their expertise in care and research. Dr. Roboz discussed adapting treatment to individual AML patients as part of the Friday Satellite Symposia, and Dr. Guzman led a trainee program teaching others how to set up a laboratory research program.
We are so proud of our Leukemia Program’s leadership at ASH and of the team’s relentless work to make life better for leukemia patients and their families.
In the past few weeks, devastating hurricanes and earthquakes have forced people out of their homes and away from their cancer care facilities, highlighting a need for better education and preparedness surrounding the medical consequences of natural disasters. Emergency situations such as a hurricane, earthquake, blizzard, flood, or blackout, are unpreventable and can drive a city into disarray in a matter of hours – but the more preemptive thinking and planning that people do prior to a catastrophic event, the better equipped they will be to respond. This is especially true for people with leukemia, who must be particularly cautious during such times, as they are often more susceptible to infection or injury.
Wishing everyone a safe fall and winter season!
On August 30, 2017, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the cell-based gene therapy Kymriah for treatment of children and young adults with a certain form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer in America. The approval greenlights the first gene therapy to be made available in the United States.
Each dose of Kymriah is customized to the individual patient by way of an emerging form of immunotherapy called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. T-cells are extracted from the patient’s blood and genetically modified in the laboratory to produce chimeric antigen receptors, surface-level proteins that enable the T-cells to recognize and fight leukemia cells that possess the antigen CD19. The newly engineered T-cells are then infused back into the patient’s body. The goal of Kymriah and other forms of immunotherapy is to target and attack the cancer cells that they are programmed to destroy.
This historic approval follows clinical trials demonstrating durable safety and efficacy in children and young adults up to age 25 with relapsed or refractory B-cell precursor ALL.
Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hosptial has ongoing clinical trials evaluating CAR T-cell therapy in adults with certain forms of leukemia. To learn more, visit: https://jcto.weill.cornell.edu/.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved CPX-351, a combination of chemotherapy drugs daunorubicin and cytarabine also known as Vyxeos, for treatment of two types of high-risk acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Clinical trial participants with newly diagnosed therapy-related AML (t-AML) and those with AML accompanied by myelodysplasia-related changes (AML-MRC) demonstrated increased life expectancy when treated with CPX-351, as compared to those treated with separate administrations of daunorubicin and cytarabine.
The Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Leukemia Program, in collaboration with our Joint Clinical Trials Office, participated in the expanded access protocol for CPX-351, and we continue to use the drug across our various studies.
We were also among the sites for the clinical trial that led to another of this week’s FDA approvals: Idhifa, a targeted therapy for relapsed or refractory AML patients with the genetic mutation isocitrate dehydrogenase-2 (IDH2). After treatment with Idhifa, 34 percent of the 157 trial participants who required blood or platelet transfusions at the start of the study no longer required transfusions.
We are proud to be among the first medical centers offering novel treatment options like CPX-351 and Idhifa to our patients and look forward to continued prompt delivery of therapies that may improve life expectancy and quality of life for those affected by leukemia.