A new trial to treat myeloma by boosting the immune system


The Mayo Clinic has a Phase II trial open (at all three Mayo locations) that boosts the immune system to affect myeloma cells. In a recent interview with Dr. Bergsagel, MD, on mPatient Myeloma Radio he mentioned this trial that sounds helpful to kill myeloma and may give you more energy, not less. If there’s a trial that sounds fun to join for myeloma care, this might be it.

Here’s how he described how it works:

Recently, we took a drug that honestly I didn’t think was going to work and it’s called an Inhibitor of Apoptosis Protein. It’s a class of drug which we abbreviate as IAP antagonist. This one in particular is called LCL161. What this drug does is it mimics a mutation that occurs in some patients with multiple myeloma that activates the NF-kappa B pathway. It’s sort of an important pathway in myeloma and there’s actually many different mutations that fall within that pathway. This drug  mimics the effects of one of them.

So you would predict that if you give a tumor the mutation that it normally gets that you would make the tumor worse, that you would cause it to grow more or to spread outside the marrow or something. And so when we treated the mice with it, that’s one thing we were looking for is if we give this drug to myeloma, does it make them worse? We were kind of surprised to find that when we did that, the tumor actually went away completely.

In our mouse model it was really the most active drug. It’s active as Velcade or melphalan. The tumor stayed away for a very long time. But we were puzzled by this because it didn’t really make sense to us. We treated cell lines in vitro with the drug. They weren’t killed and we treated tumor cells from patients with what we think are physiologic concentrations of the drug and they weren’t killed.

It appeared to be acting not on the myeloma cell but the immune system.

So it wasn’t really until we did some more studies in the mouse where we found that we don’t think the drug is actually acting on the tumor cell. We think it’s acting on the immune cells in the mouse because the NF-kappa B pathway is really an important pathway for immune cells and primarily, in this case, we’re talking about what’s called the alternative NF-kappa B pathway which is important for innate immune cells.

This drug is relatively specific for activating that pathway. If we take the exact same tumor cells and we put them into a mouse with a mature immune system, the drug works excellent, very well. If we put the exact same tumor cells into very young immature mouse — doesn’t have a mature immune system at all but otherwise it’s a normal mouse, it’s just very young — and then we treat it with the drug, the drug doesn’t work at all.

So it can’t be a direct antitumor effect or it would work in the young mice just like it does in the old mice. By looking into it, we also did some studies where we combined this drug with Velcade or we combine this drug with dexamethasone. And both times the drug didn’t work as well. Those drugs inhibited the effect of this drug. Of course, one characteristic of both those drugs is that they suppress the immune system. So we think they’re suppressing this immune effect.

The drug is in a Phase II trial in myeloma because the safety doses have already been established in other cancers and it’s an oral pill.

This drug has actually been given to a number of 200 patients I think with solid tumors in Phase I and some early Phase II clinical trials and in other cancers. It’s a pill that’s very safe. What happened to those patients when they took it is that when they got up to what was the dose limiting toxicity at quite high doses was what’s called the cytokine release syndrome. Cytokines are basically kind of like hormones that come from immune cells that really stimulate the immune system.

So these patients were having this very massive immune stimulation occurring in about three or four hours after they took the pills but when they backed down the doses either they didn’t see it so much. And they showed, in fact, in the patients that there’s a cytokine  (one of them is called Interleukin 8) that attracts neutrophils, which are one of the most common white blood cells but they’re an effector cell which, when activated, can kill tumors. This cytokine went up a hundredfold in the serum of patients after taking this. 

I think for multiple myeloma, there’s a critical relationship between the myeloma cell and the innate immune cells that support its growth in the bone marrow microenvironment and that when you give this drug, the Interleukin 8 is secreted and all the innate immune cells, all the neutrophils go to where those cells were, which in the case of myeloma is right around the tumor in the bone marrow.

Because the immune system is being boosted, some patients have noticed that they actually have more energy than they did before. It may not work when the immune system is overly compromised. LCL161 looks like a good target and while it doesn’t seem to work when combined with Velcade and dexamethasone (because they depress the immune system), it looks to work well with cyclophosphomide.

I can say it’s tolerated just like it is in patients with breast cancer. To think that you can take a pill once a week that boosts your immune system – in general the patients feel better and we’re seeing quite dramatic responses — it’s promising. There are very few patients on the trial so far, so everything is very early. We have evidence in the mouse that even though drugs like Velcade and dexamethasone inhibit its effect in a mouse when we combine it with cyclophosphamide, we see a very dramatic enhancement of activity. We’ve seen the same thing that the clinical trial is written that if a patient progresses on the LCL161 alone that cyclophosphamide is added, and we’ve seen the same kind of synergy in the patients on the clinical trial.

The trial is being run at all Mayo Clinic locations – Arizona, Minnesota and Florida. Patients need to be in the clinic once a week for the first 4 weeks and then the dosage time expands to less frequent visits. 

Patients who are eligible should have already received a proteasome inhibitor like bortezomib or carfilzomib and an iMiD (thalidomide, pomolidomide, lenalidomide) and up to five lines of previous therapy (where induction, transplant and maintenance can be considered a single line).

There are 21 spots open for this trial. For more information about joining this trial, contact the Mayo Clinic at 800-664-4542.


About Author

Jenny A

Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can help accelerate a cure by weighing in and participating in clinical trials. Founder of Myeloma Crowd, Myeloma Crowd Radio and the CrowdCare Foundation.


  1. Pingback: hibitor of apopInhibitor of apoptosis protein shows promise | Multiple Myeloma Blog

  2. Richard Anter on

    I was diagnosed in October, 2011 with MM. I started on the Dex-Velcade-Revlimid protocol in December. I had chemo & stem cell transplant in March, 2012. After a few months of getting my strength back, I have been clean.

    The point: Through it all, from Day 1, I started to build my immune system with IP-6. Through all of the treatments, all of the stem cell isolation, and all of the rehab, I have been taking IP-6. The whole key is to build one’s immune system. My white cells never crashed. Now, after 2 years post stem cell, I have stopped the Revlimid maintenance and feel as though I am back to whatever normal is after MM.

    One of these days, someone is going to realize that although it is not a drug, IP-6 is one of the strongest immune system builders available and every cancer patient should be taking it. It has no side effects, it simply builds the immune system and fights cancer cells in the body and blood.


    • Congratulations on your success fighting this disease. What is IP-6, and where is it available? I wish you continued succss and thanks for this post.

    • It appears from reading this that U can only get the IP6 if u are in the trial? Is there any thing else that one can get NOW? maybe homepathic or like Alomune? I’m sure it’s not as strong but???

      • I was fascinated to hear about the positive results of taking IP6. Can you tell me
        what it stands for? I’m currently taking a Shaklee product, Interferon, the supposedly is great to build the immune system. I was diagnosed n 2010 and my numbers are very good – some days feel great and others not as good. I’m taking the drug kyprolis.

  3. David Finkelstein on

    Thank you for this post. While I had heard of the LCL-161 clinical trial before, this column helped me understand it better. It seems perfect for me, and I am doing the screening visit at Mayo ascottsdale next week. If it works out, it will be thanks to your writing!



  4. David Finkelstein on

    I started the LCL-161 trial today! The first day after the pills is the riskiest,, but I had only minor problems. I will let you know if it helps my condition in a month or two.

    Thanks again for your column!


  5. Hi Jenny!

    This is really exciting news! I hope this drug gets approved as a single agent. I would like to see it used as a pre-emptive strike in patients if their numbers start to rise.

    It would be nice if a trial was designed to see how much it raised the levels of the uninvolved immunoglobulins that are often suppressed in myeloma patients. We need to have a robust immune system to keep cancer at bay, and that would make a good endpoint for the trial.

    A reconstituted immune system.

    LCL-161 sounds like a winner. I hope to hear great things about it @ ASH 2014 in December.

    BTW, have you heard anymore from David Finkelstein and how he is doing?

  6. David Finkelstein on

    The LCL-161 clinical trial didnt work for me. I tried it both with and without cyclophosphamide, and it did not affect my progression.

    I only know what was going on at one of the sites (Scottsdale) so don’t know how overall it is doing. But at that site, it appeared most patients who took both drugs were responding.

    I would encourage any patient who might qualify to try to join the clinical trial, as they may still have a few slots.

    • Jenny A

      David, thank you so much for sharing your progress. I hope you are able to find a working treatment and hopefully one that has limited side effects.

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