Multiple myeloma is a B-cell cancer caused by malignant plasma cells. It's a tough-to-treat cancer, with many patients undergoing multiple treatments over time. Eventually, patients whose disease returns despite receiving multiple prior treatments are left with few treatment options. Eventually, that could change if early-stage trial results reported by bluebird bio(NASDAQ: BLUE)are confirmed in future trials.
First, some background
B-cells are immune system cells that fight infection and disease. When B cells attack infection, they mature into plasma cells that make antibodies and that are mostly found in the bone marrow, or the soft tissue that's found inside some hollow bones.
When B-cells are cancerous, they can produce tumors in the bone, as well as other places. If a patient has more than one tumor, then that patient is diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Eventually, cancerous cells in the bone marrow crowd out normal blood cells, and proteins released by them can build up and organ damage.
According to the National Cancer Institute, over 30,000 new cases of myeloma are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. Currently, theses patients are treated with various approaches, including biologics, such as Celgene's (NASDAQ: CELG) Revlimid, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and stem cell transplants. If a patient's disease returns, or it fails to respond to a treatment, then a different treatment option is tried. Unfortunately, this approach falls short for many multiple myeloma patients, and as a result, the five-year survival rate for the disease is only about 50%.