Leukaemia patients who suffer a relapse can be prescribed a life-extending antibody drug after it was issued with a European licence.
MabThera, which was previously only allowed for newly-diagnosed patients, has been licensed for all patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).
Trials have shown that the drug, combined with chemotherapy agents, can aid CLL sufferers who have relapsed or not responded to initial treatment.
The combination, compared to chemotherapy on its own, is almost twice as likely to achieve remission. Progression of the disease was also halted for 10 months longer in patients on MabThera.
More than 20,000 people in the UK have CLL and in about two thirds of cases patients suffer a relapse.
MabThera, the brand name for the drug rituximab, is a precisely targeted drug that uses laboratory-manufactured antibodies to tackle specific causes of disease.
The drug was originally launched for treating lymphoma patients and is also prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis.
Professor Andrew Pettitt, consultant haematologist at Royal Liverpool University Hospital, one of the trial investigators, said: “The partnering of rituximab with chemotherapy is one of the most significant advances we have seen in this type of leukaemia – it has improved patient outcomes considerably.
Copyright Press Association 2009