The long-term outcome of the first-ever study of a non-chemotherapy frontline treatment approach to mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) was recently published in the American Society of Hematology’s prestigious Blood Journal.
Led by Dr. Jia Ruan, clinical investigators at four medical centers across the United States launched a phase two clinical trial in 2011 to evaluate the novel biological pairing of lenalidomide plus rituximab as induction (initial) and maintenance (relapse prevention) therapy. The team’s treatment goals were to provide disease control and extend survival, while maintaining quality of life.
Of 36 evaluable patients, about 92 percent responded to treatment, with 64 percent achieving complete remission. At five-year follow-up, 77 percent of participants were alive and well, and 64 percent remained free of disease progression.
To determine how well the lenalidomide plus rituximab combination works, the team also measured the status of minimal residual disease (MRD) – the small amount of cancer cells that may be left after treatment that have the potential to lead to relapse. Eight out of a subset of ten evaluable patients tested MRD-negative.
Overall, the chemotherapy-free drug combination has produced durable remission rates with potential to achieve MRD-negative remissions. Chronic maintenance therapy with lenalidomide and rituximab has manageable side effects, including infections, cytopenias (low blood count), and some expected secondary primary malignancies.
This outcome represents a major stride in treatment and care of the MCL patient population, who harbor a rare and generally incurable disease where intensive chemotherapy regimens do not necessarily translate to cure and may not be tolerated by all patients.
“The introduction of novel agents – including the immunomodulatory agent lenalidomide and Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitors ibrutinib and acalabrutinib, which are FDA-approved for MCL – is poised to transform MCL management by making effective ‘chemo-free’ treatment accessible to all patients in both relapsed/refractory and frontline settings,” says Jia Ruan, MD, PhD.