New Leukemia Medication Could Eliminate Chemotherapy


Researchers are reporting early success for a new leukemia medication that “melts” away cancer cells in a common form of the disease.  Early indications show that chemotherapy is not needed, greatly reducing side effects for patients.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College have developed a twice a day pill (idelalisib) that works against chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common form of leukemia.  Lead investigator, Richard Furman, M.D. states,

“The treatment today for CLL can be worse than the disease, leading to a great deal of side effects and death. This study … demonstrates that we may no longer need to use chemotherapy in CLL.  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.”

CLL often creates a vicious cycle in patients.  Treatment is typically chemotherapeutic drugs that are given to drive CLL into remission.  Unfortunately, patients often relapse and treatment is re-introduced.  As the disease progresses remission becomes briefer and the treatment becomes less effective, eventually overwhelming the patient.

The randomized, double-blind study was administered in 19 medical centers in five countries.  220 patient were given either a combination of rituximab and idelalisib or rituximab and a placebo.  The results are stunning.

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.

The early results were so strong that they halted the trail early so that all study recipients could receive the dual treatment.  Even more good news, patients who were no longer responding to typical chemotherapy were responding to idelalisib.

The study was funded by Gilead, the manufacturers of the drug.  They recently submitted for approval of the drug to treat refractory indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  If you are an M.D. or D.O. we will be discussing this in more detail inside Sermo, we invite you to join your peers in our virtual “doctor’s lounge.”

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