New drug hope for blood cancers

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A new pill launched in the UK has the potential to transform the treatment of blood cancers, it is claimed.

The drug, ibrutinib, is licensed for advanced case patients with two specific types of leukaemia and lymphoma.

But its maker, the pharmaceutical company Janssen, hopes it will prove effective in a wide range of blood cancers.

Currently ibrutinib, marketed as Imbruvica, can be given to patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) or refractory mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).

Each year, around 2,800 CLL and 500 MCL patients are diagnosed in the UK.

Dr Claire Dearden, consultant haematologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital, who took part in trials of the drug, said: “The launch of ibrutinib in the UK signals a real step change in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia treatment and is encouraging for patients and their families.

“Historically there have been few treatment options beyond chemotherapy, which can have significant side effects and may not be suitable for all patients.

“This new treatment not only shows good efficacy but is also generally well tolerated. It therefore has the potential to meet a significant unmet need for selected patients with this disease.”

A course of ibrutinib costs £4,000 a month, but the drug is on the list of medicines that qualify for Cancer Drugs Fund subsidies.

It is also being reviewed by the NHS watchdog the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (Nice) which sets guidelines for drug cost effectiveness.

Ibrutinib targets a protein called BTK (Bruton’s tyrosine kinase) which fuels the growth and survival of cancer cells.

In trials, the drug significantly reduced the risk of disease progression or death in CLL patients compared with treatment using the immunotherapy agent ofatumumab.

That study was halted early because of the extent of the improvement seen in those patients taking ibrutinib.

Another trial showed that 68% of end-of-life MCL patients responded to ibrutinib and typically survived 13.9 months without the disease progressing.

Nick York, from the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Support Association, said “Historically these blood cancers have been hard to treat and there have been few effective treatments available.

“Some patients do not respond or may no longer respond to these conventional therapies. The availability of a targeted therapy like ibrutinib is therefore very welcome news.”

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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