CLL patients who relapse after or are refractory to ibrutinib or idelalisib often have few treatment options and poor outcomes. In an ongoing phase II study, presented at the 2016 annual ASCO meeting, researchers investigated the activity of venetoclax in patients with CLL who have relapsed or become refractory to ibrutinib or idelalisib. Venetoclax (Venclexta, ABT-199), is the first FDA-approves treatment that inhibits the BCL-2 (B-cell lymphoma 2) protein. The BCL-2 protein plays an important role in enabling CLL cells to survive. CLL cells and other lymphomas over express and are more dependent upon BCL-2 protein than normal cells. Therefore, when venetoclax inhibits the protein, the CLL cells die, while the normal cells continue unharmed.
54 patients were enrolled into the two arms of the trial based upon whether they were relapsed or refractory to ibrutinib (Arm A, 38 patients) or idelalisib (Arm B, 10 patients). 48 patients were evaluable for responses. The overall response rate for ibrutinib treated patients was 61% (CR=8%; PR=53%) and for idelalisib was 50% (CR=0%; PR=50%). Side effects were found in less than 20% of patients with the most common including neutropenia, diarrhea, nausea, anemia, fatigue, and hypophosphatemia. These results show that venetoclax displays promising activity for CLL patients who have relapsed or are refractory to both ibrutinib and idelalisib and can be safely administered.
Further research is required to demonstrate the depth and duration of response, but these initial results are positive.