July 8, 2021:

Murali Janakiram, MD, MS, a medical oncologist at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, and Attaya Suvannasankha, MD, a medical oncologist at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, have been named co-chairs of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium’s Multiple Myeloma Clinical Trial Working Group.

Dr. Janakiram is a graduate of Madras Medical College in Chennai, India. He completed his residency at Case Western University and MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and his fellowship at Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. His research interests include disparities in multiple myeloma, genomics of adult T-cell leukemia lymphoma, and immune checkpoints PD-L1, B7-H3, B7x, and HHLA2. His clinical expertise includes cellular therapy and bone marrow transplant for multiple myeloma and lymphoma.

Dr. Suvannasankha is a graduate of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. She completed her residency at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia and a fellowship at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. She joined the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2003 and currently serves as an associate professor at the IU School of Medicine and researcher at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Suvannasankha’s research interests are in the molecular mechanism of drug resistance in hematologic malignancy and precision medicine. Her clinical expertise includes hematology-oncology and bone marrow transplant.

Multiple myeloma, also known as myeloma, is a rare type of cancer that arises from plasma cells. In myeloma, cells grow in abundance and crowd normal cells in the bone marrow that produce red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Approximately 35,000 patients are newly diagnosed with myeloma every year in the United States. The overall survival for patients with multiple myeloma is steadily increasing due to newer treatment options which is very encouraging and most patients are now expected to live beyond 10 years.

“When I think about moving milestones in myeloma, it really does take a team,” said Dr. Suvannasankha. “It’s still an uncommon disease. We have come such a long way, but it continues to be incurable.”

She notes there is a lot of talent in the Midwest when it comes to understanding the biology of myeloma, but there is still more work that needs to be done to translate ideas into novel treatments.

“I think the Big Ten CRC is unique in that it brings together people who are passionate about doing more than just treating patients, who collaborate with other scientists to exchange our knowledge,” Dr. Suvannasankha said.

Dr. Janakiram agreed and said collaboration brings out the best in both young and more experienced investigators.

“People are there to support and help you work toward your goal,” he said. “When you work as a consortium, you have the power of the group to accrue patients faster, and if there are barriers at one site, another site can usually pick up, and the accruals will go well.”

Their immediate goals for the Multiple Myeloma working group are to increase investigator participation and study concept submissions.

“I think one of the first goals is to grow the team and generate more investigator-initiated trials,” Dr. Janakiram said. “The second goal from my perspective is that we incorporate opportunities to work in collaboration with each other.”

The co-chairs plan to work closely with the Big Ten CRC’s Correlative Sciences Clinical Trial Working Group, to enrich multiple myeloma studies with strong correlative objectives.

“We’re in a good place to learn a lot from the studies we do, not to just give patients a new drug, but also to understand what makes something work well and what doesn’t,” Dr. Suvannasankha said. “We’re in the best position to consider and apply personalized medicine, and really think of the disease as that person’s own specific condition.”

The co-chairs are eager to work with young investigators who are looking for opportunities to participate in collaborative research.

“I think of the Big Ten CRC as an investment that we provide now for future generations, and I hope that’s true for the Multiple Myeloma Working Group,” Dr. Suvannasankha said. “I want to see the next generation of physician scientists and clinical researchers have great support, rather than having to navigate their own way.”

Dr. Janakiram encourages young investigators to gain experience by attending working group calls and Big Ten CRC Grand Rounds.

“Attending the calls and listening to the discussions provide a great segue to understand research concepts and the disease,” he said. “I think young investigators will find a good connection with the rest of the clinical investigators when they participate.”

About the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium: The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium was created in 2013 to transform the conduct of cancer research through collaborative, hypothesis-driven, highly translational oncology trials that leverage the scientific and clinical expertise of Big Ten universities. The goal of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium is to create a unique team-research culture to drive science rapidly from ideas to new approaches to cancer treatment. Within this innovative environment, today’s research leaders collaborate with and mentor the research leaders of tomorrow with the unified goal of improving the lives of all patients with cancer.

About the Big Ten Conference: The Big Ten Conference is an association of world-class universities whose member institutions share a common mission of research, graduate, professional and undergraduate teaching and public service. Founded in 1896, the Big Ten has sustained a comprehensive set of shared practices and policies that enforce the priority of academics in the lives of students competing in intercollegiate athletics and emphasize the values of integrity, fairness and competitiveness. The broad-based programs of the 14 Big Ten institutions will provide over $200 million in direct financial support to more than 9,800 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports. The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. For more information, visit www.bigten.org.