Introduction: In the treatment of low-risk myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) patients, anemia is the predominant problem. A recent breakthrough in the therapy of anemia in low-risk MDS patients are drugs involved in TGFβ pathway blockade. Luspatercept is a recombinant fusion protein derived from human activin receptor type IIB. It binds TGFβ superfamily ligands and inhibits the SMAD2/3 pathway leading to potentiation of red cell line differentiation and proliferation. Luspatercept was approved last year by the FDA and EMEA in the treatment of anemic low-risk MDS patients with ring sideroblasts (MDS-RS-MLD, MDS-RS-SLD) and/or SF3B1 mutated patients who are not eligible for erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESA) or for patients who failed on this therapy. Luspatercept showed high clinical activity for the treatment of anemia in the phase 2 trial (PACE-MDS) and subsequently in the phase 3 trial (MEDALIST). It has led to transfusion independence (TI) in about 40 % of patients.

Methods: From January 2021 to July 2022, 27 patients were treated with luspatercept at the hematology department of Charles University Hospital in Prague, Czech Republic. The median age of the patients was 77 years (range 57-89) with a male to female ratio 17:10. WHO 2016 diagnosis were: MDS-RS-MLD (N = 23) and MDS/MPN-RS-T (N = 4). Median of IPSS-R was 2.5 (range 1-4). Median of IPSS-R cytogenetic score scaled from 0-2 with the median of 1. Median follow-up was 7.8 months (range 1-38). Luspatercept was administered in subcutaneous injections once every 3 weeks with an initial dose of 1 mg/kg. Dose escalation was done according to the level of response to 1.33 and 1.75 mg/kg. The median number of cycles administered was 7 (2-17). Transfusion dependency before luspatercept initiation ranged from 2 transfusion units (TU)/8 weeks to 12 TU/8 weeks, 11 patients had low transfusion burden (LTB), 16 high transfusion burden (HTB). Baseline erythropoietin (EPO) level was 374 IU/l in average (range 150-770) and ferritin level was 1307 μg/l in average (range 234-3832). 9 patients received chelation therapy. 22 patients were tested for SF3B1 mutation with 21 positive results (95.5 %) using Sanger sequencing (N = 3) or NGS approach (N = 18). Isolated mutation of SF3B1 was present in 8 patients (44 %). The most frequent mutations besides SF3B1 were TET2 (N = 8; 44 %), ASXL1 (N = 3; 17 %), DNMT3A and RUNX1 (N = 2; 11 %). Average mutations count per one patient was 1.7 (range 0-5). We did not observe any TP53 mutation.

Results: There were 24 evaluable patients in terms of response. Thus far 11 (45 %) patients have responded by achieving TI, 5 (20 %) patients have had a reduction in transfusion dependence (HI, according to IWG criteria 2006), 8 (33 %) patients have not responded. One patient progressed to the higher risk MDS, and one transformed to acute myeloid leukemia. Median duration of response was 7.4 months (range: 0.7-31.8). Median number of cycles to achieve response was 4. Eleven patients responded to the basic dose 1 mg/kg, 2 additional patients on the dose 1.33 mg/kg and 2 more on the dose 1.75 mg/kg. There were differences in response according to transfusion burden, in LTB group achieved TI 8 patients and HI 1 patient, in HTB group we observed TI in 3 patients and HI in 4 patients. In 9 patients, we added ESA to luspatercept therapy, as they act both at different levels of erythropoiesis, which led to the improvement of response in 5 cases. In general, patients with lower initial baseline EPO level were better responders. We did not observe decrease in ferritin level during therapy. There was no significant effect of mutation burden on patient's OS, although patients with single mutated SF3B1 achieved better ORR (75 %), than patients bearing mutations in multiple genes (ORR = 40 %). There were no adverse effects of Grade II or more.

Conclusion: In conclusion, luspatercept is certainly the next major step in the treatment of anemia in MDS patients. The advantage of the drug is very good tolerance and easy administration. We observed better responses in patients bearing single mutation in SF3B1, patients with LTB and lower initial baseline EPO levels. The higher response rate in our follow-up may be influenced by the combination with ESA and rapid dose escalation.

This work was supported by the following grants: grant AZV 2021-2024 NU21-08-00312, Grant AZV 2019-2023 NV19-08-00144, UNCE/MED/016

No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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