New pill can 'melt away' leukemia without chemotherapy

Friday, 24 January 2014 - 11:44am IST | Place: Washington, DC | Agency: ANI

A new study has revealed that use of a twice-daily pill could turn a deadly blood cancer into a highly treatable disease, suggesting that people suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may be able to avoid having to take debilitating chemotherapy.

According to scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College who led a multinational research team, the treatment today for CLL can be worse than the disease, leading to a great deal of side effects and death.

“This study, and others we have conducted on idelalisib, 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,” lead investigator, Dr. Richard R Furman said.

In this randomized, double-blinded study, researchers from 19 medical centers in five countries tested a combination of two targeted drugs – medications that attack cancer without damaging healthy cells.

They compared rituximab and idelalisib against rituximab and a placebo pill in 220 CLL patients who could not receive chemotherapy.

They found that those who received the combination of idelalsib and rituximab went longer without their disease worsening than those who received only rituximab, which has been the standard of care.

It was found that 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. About the same percentage of patients in each group suffered side effects from the treatments.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. 


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