Better leukemia treatment

Anew drug combination for chronic lymphocytic leukemia could herald a new standard of treatment, researchers find.

A new drug combination for chronic lymphocytic leukemia appears to be better tolerated by patients and helps them live longer than traditional chemotherapy, a clinical trial Stanford and multiple other institutions showed.

“This represents a paradigm shift in how these patients should be treated,” said Tait Shanafelt, MD, the Jeanie and Stew Ritchie Professor of medicine and lead author of a paper on the research, which was published Aug. 1 in The New England Journal of Medicine. “We can now relegate chemotherapy to a fallback plan rather than a first-line course of action.”

Researchers recruited 529 patients newly diagnosed with the common blood cancer who were randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio to receive a treatment that combines ibrutinib and rituximab — which target the B cells that run amok in the disease — or traditional chemotherapy of the drugs fludarabine, cyclophosphamide and rituximab.

Participant Dan Rosenbaum, 57, said he saw “marked” improvements with the new treatment, with few side effects. “It’s so unbelievable it is almost hard to talk about.”

Three years after the trial, 98.8% of the people who received the new drug combination were alive, versus 91.5% of those who received the traditional treatment, the study showed.