Britain OKs New Drug for Low-Grade Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Authorities in Britain have approved a new medication for people with so-called indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). It will be used when rituximab, the drug most often used to treat NHL, fails to deter the disease within six months.Two clinical studies have shown that the new medication, Levact (bendamustine), produces good responses in 77 percent and 75 percent of patients. A quarter of the patients in the studies fully recovered.

“The launch of bendamustine today is a significant step forward in the treatment of indolent NHL,” said Andrew Davies, a doctor at Southampton General Hospital. “It will provide an important additional weapon in the fight against this disease.”

Andrew McMillan, a physician at Nottingham City Hospital, agreed, saying, “Follicular lymphoma is a condition where patients often undergo a series of relapses followed by responses to subsequent therapy. Therefore, additional agents such as bendamustine will allow further treatment of patients who have not responded well to currently available therapies.”
   
Bendamustine is also used as the primary treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in patients unfit for fludarabine combination therapy. It’s also the primary drug used to treat some multiple myeloma patients.

Bendamustine is unique among chemotherapeutic agents in that it exhibits properties of two kinds of drug classes known as alkylating agents and purine analogues. Apparently because of its hybrid structure, it’s able to attack cancer cells in several ways. This is perhaps why tumor cells have difficulty building resistance to it. Thus, Levact seems to be a good drug to use after others have failed. In addition, it has low toxicity and can be administered infrequently—up to three weeks between doses.
   
Alison O’Toole, director of oncology at Napp Oncology, said: “[Our company] is committed to improving the options available to people affected by blood cancers. We are delighted that patients in the UK will now be able to benefit from Levact.”
   
At the present time, bendamustine is licensed in Germany and Switzerland as Ribomustin. It’s been sold in the United States since 2008 under the brand name Treanda, where it is allowed for use in treating indolent NHL that has developed a resistance to rituximab, and for treating CLL.
   
The U.S. government estimates that some 65,000 new cases of NHL will be diagnosed in 2010 in the United States, and that 20,000 Americans will die of the disease.


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