Chemo Pill Shows Promise for Advanced Lymphoma, Leukemia

December 08, 2008

A new chemotherapy pill is showing early success in treating people with stubborn lymphomas, according to scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Doctors reported that the drug is halting disease in nearly half of the patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and in patients with more aggressive lymphoma as well.

Scientists and oncologists are interested in the investigative drug, fostamatinib disodium, because it targets a common protein in normal B cells – white blood cells that fight infection -- and lymphoma and leukemia cells. The druginhibits the activity of this protein, called SYK (spleen tyrosine kinase), which leads to regression of lymphoma. Jonathan Friedberg, M.D., director of hematological malignancies clinical research, shared results of Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials in the plenary session at the prestigious American Society of Hematology conference in San Francisco.

In the Phase 2 study, doctors treated 68 patients with varying forms of recurrent lymphoma and CLL. These patients had previously received numerous therapies, including stem cell transplants and radioimmunotherapy. These patients had few standard therapeutic options.

The twice-a-day pill, produced by Rigel,  brought disease regression in 54 percent of the patients with CLL and in 21 percent of the patients who had diffuse large B cell lymphoma. Additional patients saw their disease stabilize, and others have remained on therapy for more than 1 year.

“This is good news for patients “This treatment represents an example of ‘targeted therapy,’ where a tumor-specific protein is inhibited, resulting in significant disease activity without the side effects of standard chemotherapy,” said Friedberg, who receives research funding from Rigel. “We are currently studying this drug in the laboratory to determine the subgroup of patients who may benefit the most from this therapy. We also are exploring combinations of this drug with other agents, to enhance curability of aggressive lymphomas.”

There are many forms of lymphoma and this new therapy may offer patients with recurrent disease – CLL, small lymphocytic lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma -- another option as they progress through various treatments for the resistant disease. 

Lymphomas are diagnosed in about 66,000 people each year in the United States. It is the fifth most common cancer, excluding skin cancers. Although some types of lymphoma are more common in children, it is largely a disease of aging adults. The average age at diagnosis is in the 60s and around half of patients are older than 65.  

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