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New treatment option for certain leukaemia patients in Scotland

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by In collaboration with PA Media Group | News

14 August 2019

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A laboratory image of red blood cells

A targeted combination treatment for patients with a specific type of blood cancer will soon be available on the NHS in Scotland.

Following the recommendation by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), adults living with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) could soon be treated with a combination of targeted drugs venetoclax (Venclyxto) and rituximab (Mabthera, Rixathon, Truxima).

Gordon Matheson, Cancer Research UK’s Public Affairs Manager for Scotland, called the SMC’s decision “great news” for patients.

Combination treatment

Venetoclax is a targeted drug that stops a specific protein found in CLL cells from working, triggering the cells to die.

During treatment, venetoclax is paired with rituximab, a targeted cancer drug that’s already used to treat some people with CLL in combination with the chemotherapy drug, bendamustine.

The new treatment was approved after phase 3 clinical trial results showed the combination significantly delayed progression of the disease compared with those on an alternative treatment combination of chemo and rituximab.

The SMC recommends the new treatment should be taken for 24 months.

Gordon Matheson said, “This combination offers another treatment option for some patients with this devastating disease, and clinical trial results suggest it can increase the time before patients’ disease gets worse compared to some other treatments.”

Patients in England and Wales with this same type of cancer already have access to the drug combination on the NHS.

Decision made after positive trial results

Over the two-year trial, 389 patients were randomly selected to receive either the new combination treatment of venetoclax and six months of rituximab, or a different chemotherapy treatment plus six months of rituximab.

The new drug combo halted the disease in around 81 in 100 people, compared with 27 in 100 taking the standard treatment.

Low white blood cell count (neutropenia) was the most common side effect experienced by those taking the venetoclax combination. And the rate of infection was higher in those on the chemotherapy treatment.

Gordon said that around 200 people are diagnosed with CLL in Scotland every year.

“Right now, patients in Glasgow are taking part in a Cancer Research UK trial to find out how well venetoclax and another drug, ibrutinib, work together to treat this type of leukaemia.

“The hope is that this could provide a further treatment option for patients with this type of cancer in the future.”

Seymour, F. J (2018) Venetoclax–Rituximab in Relapsed or Refractory Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. N Engl J Med. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1713976