A New Treatment Option for Adult Leukemia

Ibrutinib may be superior to chlorambucil chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients

(RxWiki News) Patients may now have an alternative to chemotherapy as their first line of defense against chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

A new study found that the cancer drug ibrutinib (brand name Imbruvica) may be superior to chlorambucil (Leukeran) chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for older adults with CLL. Ibrutinib is currently only approved for CLL patients who have already been treated with at least one other drug.

Scientists have been searching for alternative treatments for CLL because this type of cancer often affects elderly patients who are more likely to be harmed by the toxicity of chemotherapy, researchers said.

CLL is a type of blood and bone marrow cancer that most commonly affects older adults.

For this study, a team of researchers led by Jan A. Burger, MD, PhD, an associate professor of cancer medicine at the University of Texas, looked at 269 CLL patients. The majority were age 70 or older.

Ibrutinib was found superior to chlorambucil in the rates of disease progression, overall response and overall survival.

The risk of death or disease progression was 84 percent lower for patients on ibrutinib compared to those on chlorambucil. And after two years, about 98 percent of the ibrutinib patients were still alive — compared to 85 percent of the chlorambucil patients.

About 20 percent of patients experienced negative side effects of ibrutinib, including diarrhea, fatigue, cough and nausea. However, 87 percent were able to continue taking the drug. While chlorambucil patients experienced similar side effects, early discontinuation of treatment was more than twice as likely.

Ibrutinib also appeared to restore bone marrow function in these patients.

This study was published online Dec. 6 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

AbbVie, the maker of ibrutinib, funded this research. Several study authors disclosed potential conflicts of interest, including ties to pharmaceutical companies that make products used in the treatment of CLL.

Review Date: 
December 7, 2015