Leukemia Rx May Work Well

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia responds to a new drug found to have few side effects

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a type of blood cancer that usually grows slowly and can be treated with chemotherapy. But in some cases, patients do not respond to this traditional treatment.

As the search for safe and effective treatments continues, a new study suggests that chronic lymphocytic leukemia responds to treatment with ibrutinib, a new therapeutic agent.

According to this study, the medication was effective in preventing the cancer from progressing, without any major side effects, as is often experienced with chemotherapy.

"Ask your oncologist about new cancer therapies"

The study was conducted by John C. Byrd, MD, director of the division of Hematology at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center along with colleagues. The objective of the study was to examine the effectiveness of ibrutinib in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common form of leukemia in the US. Ibrutinib is an experimental new drug being tested for cancer treatment. It has not been approved by the FDA yet.

According to the study, ibrutinib blocks an enzyme known as tyrosine kinase. It kills cancerous immune cells but has little effect on normal cells. This helps to protect the immune systems of patients, letting them stay healthy during treatment.

The researchers looked at 85 CLL patients who had relapsed after other therapy. The median age of the patients was 66 years.

Of this patient population, 51 patients received a 420 mg daily dose of ibrutinib orally and 34 patients received an 840 mg daily dose.

The researchers found that in 71 percent of the patients, the cancer responded to the treatment. Both progression-free survival rates and overall survival rates were examined at 26 months.

The progression-free survival rate was 75 percent, which means in 75 percent of patients, the cancer did not get worse.

The overall survival rate was 83 percent, which means 83 percent of the patients were alive at 26 months.

The treatment with ibrutinib had side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue and infection but these usually were resolved without the need for stopping treatment.

The response to ibrutinib was similar regardless of clinical and genetic risk factors such as number of previous therapies or an abnormality in the patients’ chromosomes.

"Essentially all CLL patients respond well to ibrutinib, which lacks many of the side effects of chemotherapy and frequently produces long-lasting remissions even in patients with high-risk genetic lesions," says Dr. Byrd who co-led the study.

Larger clinical trials looking at the safety and efficacy of ibrutinib compared to other chemotherapeutic agents are ongoing.

The results of the study were published online in the June 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study was funded by Pharmacyclics, Inc, the company that makes ibrutinib. The study also received funding from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, D. Warren Brown Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Thomas, the Harry Mangurian Foundation, and the NIH/National Cancer Institute.

Review Date: 
June 21, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013