Approval for a life-extending antibody drug will give new hope for thousands of patients with the most common form of leukaemia.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has approved rituximab for use as a “first line” treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), although the drug will have to win support from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) before it can be made available to NHS patients.
Recent trials showed that combining the drug with standard chemotherapy halted progression of the disease for an extra 10.5 months, and more than doubled the number of patients whose symptoms disappeared.
Rituximab, marketed under the name MabThera, already has NICE approval as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Professor Andrew Pettitt, consultant haematologist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and chairman of the UK CLL Forum, said:
“The availability of rituximab as an addition to chemotherapy represents a major medical advance for CLL patients here in the UK, giving them the chance of a symptom-free life for a longer period. It is likely that this new combination will be adopted quickly for people who require their first treatment.
“The approval of this treatment is an important step forward in the management of this generally incurable disease.”
Copyright Press Association 2009