Sylvester Hosts Third Biennial Miami Leukemia Symposium

Researchers discussed advances in assessing and treating deadly blood cancers.

Group of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center doctors hosting leukemia symposium
(From left) Justin Watts, M.D.; Mikkael A. Sekeres, M.D., M.S.; Maria “Ken” Figueroa, M.D.; plenary session speaker Ross L. Levine, M.D., of Memorial Sloan Kettering; and Stephen D. Nimer, M.D.

Advances in treating deadly blood cancers were highlighted at the third Biennial Miami Leukemia Symposium, hosted by Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Researchers from leading U.S. and international cancer centers focused on laboratory studies and clinical trials that could lead to more effective therapies with improved patient tolerance, speaking to 120-plus attendees at the March 31-April 2 conference at the JW Marriott in Miami.

“The Sylvester third Biennial Miami Leukemia Symposium brought together expert leukemia researchers from around the country to present their most recent and practice-changing findings and share insights into this challenging, multifaceted blood disease,” said Sylvester director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology, the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and executive dean for research, Miller School of Medicine.

“As a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer, we are proud to convene conferences like this, where clinicians and bench scientists from top institutions including MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan Kettering, St. Jude and University of Michigan can share ideas, discuss collaborations and ultimately benefit patients here and around the world,” Dr. Nimer said.

The three-day symposium opened with welcoming remarks from event co-organizer Justin Watts, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Pap Corps Endowed Chair in Leukemia and chief of the leukemia section, Division of Hematology at Sylvester; followed by an attendee reception. The following conference sessions covered acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) — three forms of the disease based on whether it starts in myeloid cells or lymphoid cells.

High-Risk MDS Patients

On Saturday, co-event organizer Mikkael A. Sekeres, M.D., M.S., professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Hematology at Sylvester and chair of the Medical Advisory Board for Aplastic Anemia and MDS Foundation, spoke about managing high-risk MDS patients.

“Using tools like machine learning, we can better distinguish between low- and high-risk MDS patients and assess potential outcomes,” Dr. Sekeres said.

Noting that azacitidine (AZA) is the standard medication for treating MDS patients, Dr. Sekeres reported on recent studies involving AZA in combination with other drugs. Referring to the global PANTHER phase 3 trial of pevonedistat+azacitidine versus AZA monotherapy, Dr. Sekeres said that a strict dosing regimen for at least six months led to longer patient survival rates.

“At Sylvester, we are doing clinical trials today that will lead to better treatments tomorrow,” he said.

Dr. Sekeres also cited challenges with gaining approvals from manufacturers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for new clinical trials.

“We need to find end points for these trials that benefit patients, not just investigators,” he said. “We also have to look at the burden these trials put on patients, including their ability to tolerate these drugs and ability to make frequent visits to the clinic.”

Using Cellular Inhibitors

On Sunday, Justin Taylor, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Sylvester, outlined his laboratory research on nuclear export protein Exportin 1 (XPO1), which is found in high levels in many blood cancers. His talk on “Targeting Nuclear Export in MDS” focused on drugs that inhibit the flow of XPO1 through the cellular membrane.

Noting that selinexor was the first FDA-approved inhibitor in MDS, Dr. Taylor said that eltanexor — a second generation inhibitor given an orphan drug designation by the FDA — can be better tolerated by MDS patients, while providing potential therapeutic benefits. He added that Sylvester is seeking participants for a sponsored phase 1 clinical trial with eltanexor for newly diagnosed high-risk MDS patients.

Dr. Taylor is also screening a wide range of molecular compounds that could have synergistic effects with both inhibition drugs. “By examining preclinical combinations with XPO1 inhibitors, we hope to identify potential therapies with higher response rates for our patients,” he said.

Event co-organizer Maria “Ken” Figueroa, M.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, co-leader, Cancer Epigenetics Program and assistant director for translational research, moderated the AML panel discussion and gave the conference closing remarks. Other Sylvester leaders were Terrence Bradley, M.D., assistant professor of hematology, who moderated a session on AAL; Namrata Chandhok, M.D., assistant professor of hematology; and Sangeetha Venugopal, M.D., M.S., medical reviewer, who moderated two sessions on MDS.

Watch this brief video about the symposium:

Tags: Dr. Justin Taylor, Dr. Justin Watts, Dr. Maria E. Figueroa, Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, Dr. Namrata Chandhok, Dr. Sangeetha Venugopal, Dr. Stephen D. Nimer, Dr. Stephen Nimer, Dr. Terrence Bradley, Leukemia, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center