Lymphoma drug could treat leukaemia patients too

In collaboration with the Press Association

A drug that is currently licensed to treat patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma may also improve treatment for people with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), according to new data.

Two separate studies were presented today (December 8th) at the American Society of Haematology annual meeting in San Francisco which suggest that rituximab (MabThera) can be effective against the most common form of leukaemia when combined with chemotherapy.

The first study, known as CLL-8, involved 817 previously untreated CLL patients. Those who were treated with chemotherapy plus rituximab had twice the likelihood of achieving complete remission compared to those treated with chemotherapy alone.

 

Only 27 per cent of patients receiving chemotherapy achieved complete remission, compared with 52 per cent of patients who were treated with chemotherapy and rituximab.

The second study, REACH, involved 552 relapsed CLL patients. It found that the combination of chemotherapy and rituximab stopped the disease in its tracks for an additional ten months on average when compared with chemotherapy alone.

Complete remission - the absence of any detectable signs of disease - was also nearly doubled among patients taking the combination, from 13 per cent to 24 per cent.

Professor Andrew Pettitt, consultant haematologist at Royal Liverpool University Hospital and a UK investigator on the second study, said: "These results represent a significant advance. The goals of treatment are to shrink the disease to the point where we cannot detect it and to maximise the length of time before the cancer returns."

Ed Yong, Cancer Research UK's health information manager, revealed: "Rituximab works by 'labelling' cancer cells so that the immune system can find and destroy them.

"It is currently approved in the UK to treat some types of lymphoma and the initial results from these trials suggest that it could help treat leukaemia too."

Mr Yong noted that the drug's manufacturers have applied for an EU licence so that rituximab can be used to treat leukaemia. If approved, the drug would then have to be recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) before becoming available on the NHS.

He added: "We hope that this review process will be completed as swiftly as possible."

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