A medicine curing blood cancer developed by Australian researchers has undergone two trials. It could become an alternative to chemotherapy and modify cancer treatment, according to John Seymour at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (PMCC), who led the venetoclax tests. Good results of both tests were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In the first trial the medicine was tested on 389 patients from across 20 countries with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) who relapsed after previous treatment. They were given venetoclax in combination with a standard immunotherapy drug known as rituximab or rituximab on its own. After 2 years, around 85% of patients who were given the combination had very few or almost no detectable leukaemia cancer cells. Of those who received solely rituximab 36% reached similar results. In another trial, venetoclax was combined with ibrutinib, an immunotherapy medicine, and given to 24 patients who suffered mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) and who had been previously treated and relapsed. An amazing 78% of the patients were cancer free for at least 15 months after treatment. Both diseases are currently untreatable if a relapse occurs.
The tests results are exciting, says Sunil Iyengar a haemato-oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in the UK, who was not involved in the studies. He claims that the follow up times were relatively short. He adds that the medicine should undergo long-term trials in order to check if the cancer returns.