The drug MabThera (rituximab) added to chemotherapy has been shown for the first time to extend the lives of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) sufferers.
Data presented to the American Society of Haematology indicates that in previously untreated patients, 84% were still alive after three years compared with 79% given chemotherapy alone.
Adding MabThera to chemotherapy also extended by 19 months the length of time patients survived without progression.
Previous results from the same study on more than 800 people showed that 44% went into remission after the combined treatment compared with 22% receiving chemotherapy on its own.
Says Professor Peter Hillmen, consultant haematologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals: “These results are extremely significant.
“The combination of rituximab and fludarabine-based chemotherapy has proven to be a formidable partnership, sending more patients into remission, extending the period before their leukaemia returns and now increasing the length of time people survive overall.”
Around 3,700 new cases of CLL are diagnosed every year in the UK, and there are at present more than 20,000 people suffering from this form of the disease.
MabThera is licensed in the UK as a first-line treatment for CLL and has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for NHS use.
Manufactured by Roche, the drug effectively eradicates CD20+ cells in lymphoma patients by several distinct mechanisms, including complement-dependent cytotoxicity (CDC), antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) and apoptosis.
Copyright Press Association 2009