Role of rituximab in first-line treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Jeffrey Bryan, Gautam Borthakur
Department of Leukemia, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA
Abstract: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a biologically heterogeneous illness that primarily afflicts the elderly. For many decades, the initial therapy for most patients requiring treatment was limited to single-agent alkylator therapy. Within the last two decades, we have seen remarkable progress in understanding the biology of CLL and the development of more effective treatment strategies that have employed monoclonal antibodies, such as rituximab (anti-CD20). Furthermore, recognition of the synergy between fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, and rituximab (FCR) prompted investigators to explore the clinical activity of FCR in Phase II and III trials in patients with relapsed/refractory or previously untreated CLL. On the basis of these findings, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved rituximab in combination with fludarabine and cyclophosphamide for the treatment of patients with relapsed/refractory or previously untreated CD20-postive CLL. Recent data from a randomized Phase III trial has confirmed improved overall survival with FCR in patients with previously untreated CLL. However, FCR is not for everyone. More tolerable regimens using rituximab for the elderly and less fit patients are being pursued in clinical trials. Recent Phase II trials have explored potentially less myelosuppressive approaches by using lower doses of fludarabine and cyclophosphamide, replacing fludarabine with pentostatin, and combining rituximab with chlorambucil. Furthermore new biomarkers predictive of early disease progression have prompted investigators to explore the benefits of early treatment with rituximab combined with other agents. In addition to the proven utility of rituximab as a frontline agent for CLL, rituximab has a favorable toxicity profile both as a single agent and in combination with chemotherapy. The majority of adverse events are Grade 1 and 2 infusion-related reactions (fevers, chills, and rigors) and occur with the first dose of rituximab. The improved tolerability observed with second and subsequent infusions allows for shorter infusion times. Rituximab’s proven activity and favorable toxicity profile has made it an ideal agent for expanding treatment options for patients with CLL, the majority of whom are elderly.
Keywords: rituximab, tolerability, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, fludarabine, pentostatin, chlorambucil, elderly
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