Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bright Sun and Clouds

June 22, 2016

Bright Sun:

After the 10th Darzalex infusion, with daily 2 mg Pomalyst and weekly dexamethasone (DEX), IgG is down once again, from 644 to 515 mg/dL, another drop of 20%.  M-spike is down too, by a similar ratio, from 0.6 to 0.5 g/dL.  Both myeloma markers are now at a level never seen in my 13 years

since diagnosis, and apparently continuing down.  It probably means that the actual count of myeloma cells in my bones is declining by roughly the same ratio, a very hopeful thought.


HEMOGLOBIN: For the first time in years my hemoglobin is down a little, at 13.2 g/dL, where it is normally over 14 g/dL.  This is not a problem in itself yet, because 13.2 is a very livable number.  Indeed, many of my friends with myeloma would be tickled to have that much hemoglobin.  It's only a cloud because this is the third month in a row that hemoglobin has declined.  

The reason for the decline is a matching decline in my red cell count, now 3.8 trillion/L, where the bottom of the reference range is 4.32 trillion/L.  According to my Doctor WG, Darzalex can bind to the CD38 protein on red blood cells and thereby reduce their numbers.  In fact, according to the Darzalex Prescribing Information, a study showed that 45% of all patients experienced some level of anemia.  Dr WG didn't seem too concerned, perhaps because I had run a marathon three days before without serious fatigue.  We'll keep watching it - hemoglobin is measured before every Darzalex infusion, now every two weeks.

CHEST SYMPTOM: In the Vancouver USA Marathon last Sunday, three times along the way, I briefly felt a heaviness in the middle of my chest, accompanied by an ache going down both arms.  After further discussion, Dr WG said that I was recounting a classic description of angina, a symptom of heart disease.  The symptom appeared early and then disappeared in the latter half of the race, so I don't believe there is imminent danger even if it was angina.

I have posted about this symptom before, concluding then that it was reflux (heartburn) and not angina.  I have an appointment with my primary doctor in a few days, and I'll post as I learn more.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Review of ICER Report on Treatment Options for Multiple Myeloma

Who is ICER?

ICER is the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review.  As far as I can tell, it is funded primarily by insurance companies and by nonprofit organizations who, in turn, are funded by insurance companies.  They claim some funding by the federal government as well.  Other members include pharmaceutical companies who apparently participate in order to have some voice in ICER's proceedings.  A quick Google search shows that the title of many of ICER's documents is "Building Trust through Rationing," which I believe is their mantra and suggests that rationing health care is their real purpose.

ICER deals in statistics, not medicine, and a primary goal is to control costs.  I assume that this is why they don't want participation by patients.  They have been working on a report for multiple myeloma, and we myelomiacs have been concerned that they would produce a one-size-fits-all treatment algorithm that doctors might be expected to follow and insurers might try to enforce.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

ICER issued their final report on Myeloma on June 9, 2016, attempting to grade different myeloma treatments to provide comparative medical and cost values.  In my opinion this report is ridiculous on its face, saved only by one of its final recommendations.  ICER claims to have found over a thousand potentially relevant literature references to myeloma treatment, considered 38 worth reading, and exactly six Phase III studies worth analyzing to form their conclusions.

Thus they chose to ignore all Phase I and Phase II studies, which provide by far the largest part (I'd guess 90%?) of the current, up-to-date information that the FDA uses for myeloma drug approval and that doctors actually use in their day-to-day care of myeloma patients.  For this reason, ICER's entire analysis is fatally flawed.  As we say in the computer industry: "Garbage in, garbage out."


As just one example of this blinders approach, the report ignores an old but widely-used myeloma treatment called cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), which is frequently combined with dexamethasone (DEX) and either bortezomib (Velcade) or lenalidomide (Revlimid).  Indeed, many patients will recognize cyclophosphamide with bortezomib and DEX as the CyBorD regimen.  Because cyclophosphamide is relatively low in cost, it certainly should have been included in any economic analysis, but it appears nowhere except peripherally in the addenda.

ICER's peculiarly superficial analysis also minimizes or omits many other commonly-used and highly-effective regimens.  Worst of all, it gives especially poor grades to the treatments that are newest and possibly the most effective, such as pomalidomide (Pomalyst) and daratumumab (Darzalex).

Saved by the disclaimer:

One recommendation near the bottom of the final report and in the shorter Report-at-a-Glance, saves the report from total disrepute.  This appears under the heading "Insurers:"
Multiple myeloma is a condition in which many patients will cycle through most or all available treatments, and there is substantial variation in drug mechanisms of action and in the personal patient values that guide consideration of the trade-offs between extended survival and different side effect profiles. Given this background, and in the absence of better evidence, payers should not consider step therapy or “fail first” coverage policies for myeloma treatments.
Amen.  This statement seems to have two important implications:
  1. ICER recognizes that their report has no value in guiding treatment for any particular patient (i.e. it turns out that we wasted our time producing this report); and
  2. The PATIENT (the payer) is responsible for choosing an insurer or a plan which does not demand step therapy or "fail-first."
Let that be a lesson to us patients!  Maybe the best advice I've seen today - if you have a choice of insurers, choose very carefully.

My bottom line opinions:
  • A doctor attempting to use the results of this ICER report as the primary guide for treating a patient would be committing medical malpractice, and if so
  • It follows that an insurance company or plan that denied coverage based upon this report would be demonstrating a singular contempt for their own client, the policyholder.  

Whether you agree or disagree, or have a factual correction, you are invited to comment.  - Don