How I treat MDS after hypomethylating agent failure

Valeria Santini


Hypomethylating agents (HMA) azacitidine and decitabine are standard of care for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Response to these agents occurs in ∼50% of treated patients, and duration of response, although variable, is transient. Prediction of response to HMAs is possible with clinical and molecular parameters, but alternative approved treatments are not available, and in the case of HMA failure, there are no standard therapeutic opportunities. It is important to develop a reasoned choice of therapy after HMA failure. This choice should be based on evaluation of type of resistance (primary vs secondary, progression of disease [acute leukemia or higher risk MDS] vs absence of hematological improvement) as well as on molecular and cytogenetic characteristics reassessed at the moment of HMA failure. Rescue strategies may include stem-cell transplantation, which remains the only curative option, and chemotherapy, both of which are feasible in only a minority of cases, and experimental agents. Patients experiencing HMA failure should be recruited to clinical experimental trials as often as possible. Several novel agents with different mechanisms of action are currently being tested in this setting. Drugs targeting molecular alterations (IDH2 mutations, spliceosome gene mutations) or altered signaling pathways (BCL2 inhibitors) seem to be the most promising.

  • Submitted March 7, 2018.
  • Accepted December 4, 2018.
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