Key Points

  • Undetectable MRD after VRD induction, transplant and VRD consolidation overcomes the poor prognosis of patients with high risk myeloma

  • Characterization of MRD cells revealed greater clonal selection in standard risk MM and ROS-mediated drug resistance in high risk patients

Patients with multiple myeloma (MM) carrying high-risk cytogenetic abnormalities (CA) have inferior outcome despite achieving similar complete response (CR) rates when compared to cases with standard-risk CA. This questions the legitimacy of CR as treatment endpoint for high-risk MM, and represents a biological conundrum regarding the nature of tumor reservoirs persisting after therapy in patients with standard- and high-risk CA. Here, we used next-generation flow (NGF) to evaluate measurable residual disease (MRD) in MM patients with standard- (N=300) vs high-risk CA (N=90) enrolled in the PETHEMA/GEM2012MENOS65 trial (NCT01916252), and to identify mechanisms determining MRD resistance in both patient subgroups (N=40). The 36-month progression-free and overall survival rates were higher than 90% in patients with undetectable MRD, with no significant differences (P≥0.202) between cases having standard- vs high-risk CA. Persistent MRD resulted in median progression-free survival of approximately three and two years in patients with standard- and high-risk CA, respectively (P<0.001). Further use of NGF to isolate MRD followed by whole-exome sequencing of paired diagnostic and MRD tumor cells, revealed greater clonal selection in patients with standard-risk CA, higher genomic instability with acquisition of new mutations in high-risk MM, and no unifying lost or acquired genetic abnormalities driving MRD resistance. Conversely, RNA sequencing of diagnostic and MRD tumor cells uncovered the selection of MRD clones with singular transcriptional programs and ROS-mediated MRD resistance in high-risk MM. Our study supports undetectable MRD as treatment endpoint for MM patients with high-risk CA and proposes characterizing MRD clones to understand and overcome MRD resistance.

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