New Treatment Combination Poses Potential Way to Combat Chemo-Resistant DLBCL

Each year, roughly 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), an aggressive cancer of abnormal B-cells. Most people with DLBCL are cured with the standard chemotherapy regimen rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone (R-CHOP), but 30-40 percent of cases are resistant to chemotherapy for reasons that may be related to the way that genes are regulated within the cancer cells.

Prior WCM laboratory research demonstrated that certain genes within chemotherapy-resistant DLBCL cells are often inappropriately turned off and that long-term exposure to low doses of oral hypomethylating agent azacitidine (also known as CC-486) can turn those genes back on, thereby re-sensitizing the cells to chemotherapy.

Lymphoma Program chief Dr. Peter Martin, Dr. Leandro Cerchietti, Dr. John P. Leonard, Dr. Maria Revuelta and Dr. ldefonso Ismael Rodriguez-Rivera, and colleagues from around the country, set out to test a novel therapeutic alternative for these chemo-resistant cases with a phase I, open-label, multicenter trial of oral azacitidine plus R-CHOP in people with high-risk, previously untreated DLBCL, grade 3B follicular lymphoma (FL), or transformed lymphoma. The trial was conducted in collaboration with Alliance Foundation Trials (AFT), a research organization that develops cancer clinical trials with pharmaceutical companies, scientific investigators and the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (ACTO) institutional member network.

Patients in the trial received CC-486 for seven days prior to R-CHOP initiation, then for 14 days prior to each of five following R-CHOP cycles. The research team found that the combination of CC-486 plus R-CHOP was safe and well tolerated, and that it produced a higher-than-anticipated complete response (CR) rate, or disappearance of signs of cancer, exceeding 85 percent. Dr. Cerchietti’s lab also identified key changes in genes and gene expression consistent with the anticipated CC-486 effect. Dr. Martin presented the team’s findings at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition on December 9, 2017, in Atlanta, GA.

Weill Cornell Medicine

“We are at an exciting moment in time: CC-486 is emerging simultaneously with a peak in collaborative efforts between scientists, physicians and patients,” said Dr. Martin. “We are working day and night to move this concept forward, including the possible opening of randomized trials.”

Dr. Peter Martin Explains a Recently Opened Trial Testing the Combination of Azacitidine Plus R-CHOP

In his words, Dr. Peter Martin, explains a recently opened phase 1 trial testing the combination of azacitidine plus R-CHOP in patients with high risk previously untreated diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) or grade 3B follicular lymphoma.


Pretreating DLBCL with Targeted Therapy Improves Patient Outcomes and Chemotherapy Effectivenes

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is an aggressive lymphoma with high rates of relapse and survival rates that rarely extend beyond two years. However, researchers from the Weill Cornell Lymphoma Program have recently published a study in Cancer Discovery, with the potential to change the standard of care for patients with DLBCL. This study focused on the use of azacitidine (Vidaza), a targeting therapy designed to reawaken the molecular mechanisms that typically trigger cell death but are switched off as lymphoma progresses. Researchers found a resurgence in the death signal on the resumption of chemotherapy for those DLBCL patients treated with azacitidine in advance of chemotherapy. 

As the study’s senior investigator Dr. Leandro Cerchietti, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Research Scholar and assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College noted, “To have any hope for helping patients with aggressive lymphoma, we need to make this resistant cancer sensitive to treatment. We found we could do this by reprogramming the cancer to a more benign disease, which can then respond to chemotherapy…By pre-treating patients with a low-dose of azacitidine — a targeted drug approved for use in myelodysplastic syndrome — we achieved a profound and stable degree of reprogramming and chemosensitization that was very surprising to us.”

In the proof of concept, phase 3 study led by Dr. Peter Martin, patients received low doses of azacitidine five days in advance of standard chemotherapy. 11 patients achieved a complete remission of cancer, while 10 remained cancer-free for up to 28 months. 

Study collaborator, Dr. Ari Melnick commented, “In this remarkable study, Dr. Cerchietti discovered an important new disease mechanism that causes chemotherapy resistance in aggressive lymphomas, developed a new treatment regimen and completed the first clinical trial, demonstrating that his findings are true and directly relevant to those patients with the most severe forms of this tumor.” 

The implications for this study are far ranging. Dr. Cerchietti explained, “Oncologists have long believed that using high doses of an anti-cancer drug is the best strategy. Our study shows that is not the case in this kind of lymphoma, and suggests this new approach can potentially be translated to other tumor types.”

Researchers plan on expanding the study to additional DLBCL patients in a multi-center clinical trial, while studying pre-treatment strategy options in other tumor types and lymphomas. 

Please look to this space for further updates. A full listings of available clinical trials can be found here

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