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Over the past decade, many new and effective treatment options for multiple myeloma have been introduced, allowing more patients today to effectively manage their disease and get back to living life on their own terms. Many are doing things that challenge conventional perceptions of what myeloma patients can do. These myeloma patients are making history and overcoming their disease to achieve major goals in their lives. We wanted to highlight some of the inspirational stories that we’ve recently heard.

Stan Wagner

Stan Wagner

Four years after being diagnosed with myeloma and three years after going into remission, Stan Wagner continues to go for monthly blood tests but, for the most part, doesn’t think about his myeloma much. He’s focused on giving back instead.

When he learned that a friend wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for a larger purpose besides herself, Wagner brought the idea to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and helped develop the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma fundraising event. Wagner decided to participate himself and trained by going on day hikes in upstate New York. In January 2016, Wagner made the 8-day hike through high elevations and low temperatures to the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

“Being a myeloma patient doing things like this shows that myeloma is not the end of the world,” Wagner said. “Hopefully, I can inspire other myeloma patients to get out of their shells and to keep doing what they want to.”

Mark Herkert

Mark Herkert

Although Mark Herkert has never been in remission since being diagnosed with myeloma five years ago, his treatment has allowed him to become healthy enough to complete a 5K run to support the Multiple Myeloma Opportunities for Research & Education organization, becoming a top fundraiser for the event.

Since that first race, Herkert has gone on to run the Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon and the 2015 New York City Marathon, raising more than $70,000 for myeloma research through all his efforts to date. Next year, he plans to follow the footsteps of myeloma patients like Wagner by participating in the MMRF Mt. Kilimanjaro Trek.

“I felt like maybe this is what I was meant to do,” Herkert said. “I am contributing and getting in great shape at the same time. My goal is to encourage others to be part of the solution and to show others with myeloma that the sky can truly be the limit.” 

Alex Clark

Alex Clark

Being in and out remissions several times since being diagnosed with myeloma in 2011 hasn’t stopped Alex Clark from spending time outdoors, including camping and mountain climbing. When his disease went into remission for the first time, he took a road trip to Oregon, spending six weeks hiking, backpacking and mountain climbing in the wilderness. During that first trip, he logged over 300 miles and scaled five big summits.

More recently, Clark spent a rainy February weekend camping in Wisconsin’s Northwoods on the edge of Lake Superior. Clark said that he finds peace being in nature and has come to recognize that he is strong enough to overcome whatever happens next in his journey.

“I have a tattoo on my arm that says ‘don’t panic,” Clark said. “I try to think about that phrase a lot. Things are never as bad as they seem, as long as you don’t panic and keep doing the things that you enjoy.”

 

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As Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month comes around again, the myeloma community has good reason to celebrate the past decade, which has brought new treatment options for today and a better understanding of how to treat this disease in the future.

A patient who is diagnosed with myeloma has an about 47 percent chance of living five years or longer, which is up from 31 percent twelve years earlier. Meanwhile, although people are being diagnosed with myeloma at an increasing rate each year, their survival chances are improving.

“The progress has been quite dramatic,” Dr. Paul G. Richardson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Hematology Oncology department said. “Although we may have seen similar improvements in other cancers, the difference with myeloma has really been the volume of new treatment options that have been approved in the past decade and their impact on outcomes as reflected by the improvements we have seen in survival.”

Between 2006 and 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 13 new therapies for the treatment of myeloma, which is especially remarkable considering myeloma accounts for less than 2 percent of new cancer cases in the United States each year. During the same period, the FDA approved 20 treatments for lung cancer, which accounts for 13 percent of all new cancer cases, and 12 for breast cancer, which accounts for 12 percent.

Multiple Myeloma: A Decade of Progress infographic

These new myeloma therapies have already helped patients live longer lives, and the best may be yet to come as doctors explore how to use them most effectively. According to data released during the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), researchers believe that by 2022 at least half of myeloma patients will live 6 years after being diagnosed, which is 140 percent longer than was expected in 2001.

While immunotherapies are certainly exciting because of their new approaches, we should not underestimate the therapies approved over the past decade.

Over the past decade, researchers have improved our understanding of the immune system’s role in myeloma, which may transform the way we treat this cancer in the future. For instance, one study of 74 myeloma patients who live for 10 years or longer found that their immune systems may be better equipped to recognize and attack harmful entities—such as cancer cells—than others.

Over the next decade, immunotherapies, which leverage our body’s immune system to bring cancer under control, may help further extend the lives of myeloma patients. These approaches include antibody-based therapies, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells and checkpoint inhibitors.

“While immunotherapies are certainly exciting because of their new approaches, we should not underestimate the therapies approved over the past decade,” Richardson said. “There’s going to be great value in combining the next generation of myeloma therapies with those we have today.”

To learn more about how myeloma treatments are allowing patients to continue living active lifestyles, read our “Patients Not Letting Myeloma Hold Them Back” story.

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The Company’s commitment to changing the course of human health through bold pursuits in science, life-enhancing therapies and a promise to always put patients first.

From helping people obtain their medications to using cutting-edge scientific technology to discover new treatments, Celgene’s entrepreneurial spirit, teamwork-oriented culture and commitment to rare diseases create a unique platform for transforming patient outcomes. At every level, it is growing and evolving.

Passion, innovation and courage have been in the company’s genes since its founding. “Our journey to a successful company included unexpected road blocks, the courage of our people to convert those road blocks into opportunities and seize them, the vision to not only overcome obstacles but to transform them into novel approaches and progress,” former Chairman & CEO Sol J. Barer, PhD said. On those principles, Celgene has become a leader in delivering medicine to patients with unmet needs, by digging deeper to resolve unanswered scientific questions and working tirelessly to improve the lives of patients worldwide.

 

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The story of Celgene encompasses unexpected opportunities, the courage to seize those opportunities, and the vision to transform those opportunities into progress. Ultimately, Celgene hopes to turn some of the most formidable disease challenges of the 21st century into manageable conditions.