Dr. Rafat Abonour answers questions about new multiple myeloma drug

In late 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two new uses for the drug daratumumab (Darzalex®) in patients with multiple myeloma.

Rafat Abonour, M.D., a multiple myeloma expert, answered questions about what this means for patients. Since 2005, Dr. Abonour has raised awareness about the blood cancer and funds to research the rare disease through Miles for Myeloma. In all, he has raised more than $3 million for multiple myeloma research at the IU Simon Cancer Center. 

This is encouraging news for multiple myeloma patients, isn’t it?

Dr. Abonour: This is the first monoclonal antibody that directly recognizes myeloma cells and destroys them, even in patients who have relapsed.

What makes it encouraging?

Dr. Abonour: It works well alone and even better with combinations of existing myeloma drugs such as lenalidomide and bortezomib. Since it is not a classic chemotherapy drug, the side effects are minimal and the combination with other drugs does not lead to increased side effects. So, we are destroying more myeloma cells without the unwanted side effects.

What makes this drug effective?

Dr. Abonour: It works on recognizing the outside of the myeloma cells. Whether the myeloma cell is aggressive or not, it will be destroyed by this monoclonal antibody.

Indiana has a higher than average number of multiple myeloma patients. Any thoughts on why that is the case?

Dr. Abonour: We have many farming and industrial communities. Chemicals and pesticides may explain the high rates of myeloma.

What are some strengths here at IU that we offer multiple myeloma patients?

Dr. Abonour: We have six physicians dedicated to the treatment and research of this disease. We offer participation on clinical trials, which provide access to tomorrow’s medicine today.

Beyond this news, what is on the horizon for multiple myeloma patients?

Dr. Abonour: We believe that the Brown Center for Immunotherapy will be the place where new treatment options will be tested. The goal is to attack the patient’s specific myeloma using the individual patient’s own immune system.