A pill taken twice a day could turn a common and deadly form of leukemia into a manageable disease that is treated as easily as high blood pressure, a new international suggests.
CLL is the most common form of the blood cancer, striking 16,000 Americans each year and killing 5,000 annually. Current treatment involves chemotherapy, but it is highly toxic and carries significant side effects.
"The treatment today for CLL can be worse than the disease, leading to a great deal of side effects and death. This study, and others we have conducted on idelalisib, demonstrates that we may no longer need to use chemotherapy in CLL," said lead investigator Richard R. Furman, M.D., a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and an oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "Even if this cancer remains incurable, it now can be treated as if it was a chronic disease with a pill, in the same way that high blood pressure is treated."
For the study, researchers from 19 medical centers in five countries tested a combination of two targeted drugs — comparing rituximab and idelalisib against rituximab and a placebo pill in 220 patients.
They found that those who received the combination of idelalsib and rituximab fared better than those who received only rituximab. Six months into the study, cancers in 93 percent of participants in the combination therapy group had not worsened, compared to 46 percent of those in the rituximab plus placebo group.
What's more, just 13 percent of patients treated with rituximab alone responded to the therapy, compared to 81 percent of the participants in the idelalisib treatment group. A higher percentage of patients who received both drugs – some 92 percent – were still alive a year after the study began, compared to 80 percent of those who only received rituximab.
"We saw incredible responses in patients who used idelalisib. Their cancer quickly melted away," said Dr. Furman. "These types of responses were even seen in patients who didn't respond to chemotherapy."
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