Leukemia pill "quickly melted away" cancer without chemotherapy
A new study on chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) has discovered that when patients with the disease took a pill two times per day, they experienced “remarkable” improvement in which the cancer seemingly “melted away”.
CLL is a blood and bone marrow cancer, which develops when the bone marrow produces too many white blood cells called lymphocytes. It is the second most common form of the disease in adults. Last year alone there were approximately 48,610 new patients diagnosed with leukemia, and another 23,720 who died from the disease.
When the number of lymphocytes is excessive, it leaves less room for healthy white and red blood cells, as well as platelets, to sufficiently fight infection; thus, resulting in abnormal cells that can lead to infection, easy bleeding and anemia.
Chemotherapy is typically the first line of treatment for CLL, and even though most patients’ respond to chemo, there is a high rate of relapse, which requires additional rounds of chemotherapy. With each round, the length of remission usually shortens, which often causes the patients to stop responding or to otherwise be forced to quit chemo due to its debilitating side effects.
Accordingly, a team of researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York launched a study to find an alternative treatment for CLL.
The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, used a combination of two drugs known to attack cancer cells without damaging healthy ones to treat 220 patients with CLL who were unable to have chemotherapy.
The combinations used to treat the patients were as follows: 1) rituximab and idelalsib; or 2) rituximab and a placebo.
As a result, the researchers saw a significantly greater improvement in the patients who took the combination drugs, rituximab and idelalsib, compared to those who took rituximab and a placebo pill.
Meanwhile, the patients who received rituximab and idelasib managed to prevent the progression of CLL for an even greater length of time.
Indeed, after 6 months of treatment with the combo rituximab and idelasib, 93 percent of the patients did not have any progression of the disease, whereas only 46 percent of the patients treated with rituximab and a placebo did.
Moreover, 81 percent of the patients treated with rituximab and idelalsib responded, with just 13 percent of those treated with rituximab and a placebo doing the same – and one year later, 92 percent of the rituximab/idelalsib patients were still living, with 80 percent of the rituximab/placebo patients still alive.
According to the researchers, treating CLL patients with a combo of rituximab and idelalsib was so successful, that they ended their study early so they could begin treating all patients with the medication combo.
Lead researcher, Dr. Richard Furman of Weill Cornell Medical College, said that the response the team witnessed in patients treated with idelalisib was “incredible”, and that the patients’ cancer “quickly melted away”.
He added that these “incredible” responses were also witnessed in patients who were chemotherapy-resistant, which are usually the most difficult patients to treat. However, even these patients responded to the combination drug treatment within just a single week.
Dr. Furman said that these combo medications “will change patients’ lives”, and he has already begun treating all of his CLL patients with ibrutinib as a first line option for leukemia that allows them to avoid chemotherapy altogether. Ibrutinib was approved for use in mantle cell lymphoma in November by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
SOURCES: 1. Idelalisib and Rituximab in Relapsed Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1315226, Dr. Richard Furman et al., published in The New England Journal of Medicine, January 2014. 2. Weill Cornell Medical College, news release, 24 January 2014.