Although Israel is a small country of only 9.1 million it disproportionately contributes to research targeting treatments and hopefully someday cures for multiple myeloma.
Multiple Myeloma in America
About 13,000 Americans die every year from multiple myeloma (myeloma) reports the American Cancer Society. Of note life expectancy post-diagnosis has increased 8 years from 2 to 10. Myeloma is a type of cancer in which the body produces too many plasma cells that “crowd out” other types of cells, such as platelets and red blood cells reports Myeloma Research News.
Israeli Influence on the Development of Proteasome Inhibitors
Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko both from Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Irwin Rose (America) for their discovery of the ubiquitin-proteasome system, a pathway responsible for the degradation of proteins. This discovery was crucial to the creation of proteasome inhibitors—a class of treatment that slow the degradation of proteins and thereby inhibit the progression of cancer reported Yael Cohen, head of myeloma services at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital (Sourasky Medical Center). This Israeli research led directly to Velcade (bortezomib), a drug used in the first-line treatment for myeloma in most places worldwide.
The same original research was used as a platform—or building blocks—for new treatments such as Kyprolis (Carfilzomib), a selective proteasome inhibitor given to patients via an intravenous line and Ninlaro (Ixazomib), the first oral therapy for multiple myeloma.
The Result: Longer Life Expectancies
Zelig Eshhar of the Israel-based Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv was a major contributor to the invention of CAR-T cell-based therapies. Here a T-cell is a type of white blood cell that supports the human immune system fight off dangerous microbes. CAR-T cells are specially modified T-cells created to attack cancer. The chairperson of the Israeli Association of Myeloma Patients (AMEN) Shlomit Norman reports “Eshhar’s idea was to take a T-cell, modify it genetically and implant a hybrid receptor that can target the cancer antigen and have a component that activates the T-cell to kill the cancer cell.”
Israel’s Multiple Myeloma Study Group, chaired by Moshe Gat, MD represents a gathering of 20 to 30 physicians that meet frequently to discuss current myeloma topics. They also run clinical trials and advocate for patient care and improved access to medication. Gat notes that the survival rate has nearly quadrupled in the past 15 years thanks to all of these new treatments.
Myeloma in Israel
About 550 people are diagnosed with myeloma each year in Israel. About 3,500 patients live with the disease at any given time there reports Norman who chairs the AMEN—The Israeli Association of Myeloma Patients. He reports in Myeloma Research News that “These days people are living with myeloma much longer than they used to.”