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A pill may replace chemotherapy in treating leukemia

Posted on Jan 24 2014 | IANS

New York, Jan 24 : Scientists have now discovered that use of a pill twice a day could melt away chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) - a deadly form of blood cancer.

A team of researchers from 19 medical centres in five countries have found that use of a combination of two targeted drugs - idelalsib and rituximab - can make the use of debilitating chemotherapy redundant in the treatment of CLL, a cancer of the white blood cells that progresses slowly.

"The treatment today for CLL can be worse than the disease, leading to a great deal of side effects and death. This study demonstrates that we may no longer need to use chemotherapy in CLL," said Richard R. Furman, director of CLL Research at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

"Even if this cancer remains incurable, it now can be treated as if it was a chronic disease with a pill, in the same way that high blood pressure is treated," Furman said in a paper published in New England Journal of Medicine.

For their study, the researchers compared rituximab and idelalisib against rituximab and a placebo pill in 220 CLL patients who could not receive chemotherapy.

They found that those who received the combination of idelalsib and rituximab went longer without their disease worsening than those who received only rituximab, which has been the standard care.

Six months into the study, cancers in 93 percent of participants in the combination therapy group had not worsened, compared to 46 percent of those in the rituximab plus placebo group.

"We saw incredible responses in patients who used idelalisib. Their cancer quickly melted away," said Furman.

"These types of responses were even seen in patients who didn't respond to chemotherapy," he said.

Chemotherapy-resistant patients are typically the most difficult patients to treat.

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