FDA-Approved Drug to Treat Viral Infections Shows Promise Against Lymphomas

Ribavirin, a drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hepatitis C, as well as some viral respiratory infections and viral hemorrhagic fevers, has shown promising activity against some types of lymphoma. There is a growing movement to repurpose older drugs that might have mechanisms of action that could benefit cancer patients.

lec2010
Dr. Leandro Cerchietti

Based on preclinical work performed in the laboratory of Dr. Leandro Cerchietti, the Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Lymphoma Program is planning a clinical trial examining the oral antiviral drug ribavirin in patients with two non-Hodgkin lymphoma subtypes, slow growing follicular lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma. This clinical trial will be led by principal investigator Dr. Sarah Rutherford.

Previously, physicians and scientists in the Weill Cornell Medicine Lymphoma Program have demonstrated that ribavirin may be able to inhibit lymphoma cell growth. Dr. Cerchietti’s laboratory research has shown that the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eiF4E) is blocked by ribavirin in B-cell lymphoma cell lines, as well as in patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models, which more closely resemble the way cancer behaves in the human body. Blocking eiF4E ultimately leads to decreases in key proteins (MYC, BCL2, and BCL6) which are crucial for lymphoma cells’ survival.

sar2014
Dr. Sarah Rutherford

Additionally, Dr. Rutherford conducted a retrospective review of patients with lymphoma who underwent stem cell transplants at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine. Patients who were treated with ribavirin for viral infections just before or after their stem cell transplant had better lymphoma-related outcomes compared to what was expected based on their disease risk profiles.

This clinical trial, run by Dr. Rutherford and Dr. Cerchietti, will enroll patients with follicular lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma, and they will receive 3-6 months of oral ribavirin. Using a blood test, Dr. Rutherford and Dr. Cerchietti will monitor for the presence of a marker of lymphoma in the blood to confirm that ribavirin has the intended anti-lymphoma effect.

“We are excited about opening this clinical trial and aim to conduct additional trials in the future that combine ribavirin with other drugs,” said Dr. Rutherford. “Our goal is to ultimately develop a well-tolerated, targeted oral regimen to control lymphomas.”

This preclinical research is supported by a Translational Research Program from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) awarded to Dr. Cerchietti.

Dr. Jia Ruan Reviews Updates in T-Cell Lymphoma Research and Treatment

SOSS_Jia_RuanT-cell lymphoma is a complex form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma caused by abnormal clonal growth of mature T-cell lymphocytes. The disease is uncommon, affecting approximately 5-10 percent of lymphoma patients in the United States.

Historically, T-cell lymphoma was classified according to histological (microscopic anatomy) features, but thanks to new technology such as next-generation DNA sequencing and gene expression profiling, we are now able to refine disease classification based on molecular features and cell of origin. Dr. Jia Ruan discussed some of these updates at the OncLive State of the Science Summit on Hematologic Malignancies.

The most common subtypes of systemic peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL) are: peripheral T-cell lymphoma not otherwise specified (PTCL-NOS), anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL), and angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL). Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) primarily affects the skin and tends to be less aggressive compared to systemic subtypes.

While outcomes vary by T-cell lymphoma subtype, the five-year overall survival rate for systemic PTCL (with the exception of ALK+ ALCL) is between 20-30 percent, which Dr. Ruan said is suboptimal and indicative of a need for progress from a clinical research and clinical management standpoint.

Physician-researchers are taking steps to improve efficacy of initial T-cell lymphoma therapy so that as many patients as possible can achieve complete remission (CR) and stay in remission for as long as possible. Strides include incorporating frontline stem cell transplant as a way to prolong progression-free survival (PFS) in a portion of patients, as well as moving novel agents into initial combination therapy.

To date, four FDA-approved novel agents, namely pralatrexate (anti-folate), romidepsin (histone deacetylase or HDAC inhibitor), brentuximab vedotin (CD30 antibody-drug conjugate), and belinostat (HDAC inhibitor), are being evaluated in clinical trials for evidence of enhanced effectiveness when combined with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin hydrochloride, vincristine, prednisone (CHOP)-like chemotherapy. Clinicians eagerly await the results of these studies.

In CTCL, Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) and NewYork-Presbyterian’s (NYP) multidisciplinary approach to healthcare allows medical oncologists and dermatologists to collaboratively diagnose and manage cases, as well as offer a range of treatment options. For cases with thin layers of skin involvement, skin-directed therapies include steroids, topical chemicals, light therapy, and electron beam radiation. For cases that progress from the skin to the lymphatic and blood system, treatment may include systemic agents like romidepsin, retinoid analogues like bexarotene, and vorinostat, an oral HDAC inhibitor. Combinations of topical therapy and systemic treatment, as well as novel options through clinical trials, are also considered whenever appropriate.

At the Lymphoma Program at WCM/NYP, the overarching goal in the context of T-cell lymphoma is to use cutting-edge next-generation sequencing of patient samples in order to better understand T-cell lymphoma biology, and to then apply a personalized approach to pair patients with the appropriate clinical trials and optimal conventional therapies.

Watch Dr. Ruan speak with OncLive about classification of T-cell lymphomas in this video:

Is Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma Hereditary?

Patients often question whether various lymphoma types run in families, concerned that their own diagnosis may indicate cancer risk for their loved ones, as well. When an inquiry regarding the possibility of genetic predisposition in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) recently came through our clinic, we sat down with expert Jia Ruan, MD, PhD, to break down what we know and what we don’t know about the cause of this rare and complex condition.Dr. Ruan at computer

T-cell lymphomas are a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma caused by abnormal growth of mature T-cell lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell found in the immune system. In healthy people, T-cell lymphocytes are responsible for attacking foreign antigens and viruses, and aiding B-cell lymphocytes in antibody production – but by the process of clonal evolution, the T-cell lymphocytes mutate and produce abnormal offspring that become lymphoma. When T-cell lymphomas affect the skin, they are known as cutaneous T-cell lymphomas (CTCL).

The most common subtype of CTCL, mycosis fungoides (MF), occurs when malignant cells develop from CD4+CD45RO+ T-lymphocytes and migrate to the skin. Symptoms include scaly and itchy rash-like patches that may thicken over time and develop into a plaque or a tumor. If the cancer then makes its way from the skin to the lymphatic and blood system, MF becomes the more aggressive Sézary syndrome (SS). MF patients with limited skin symptoms do very well with skin-directed treatment, such as light therapy and topical medicines including steroids, while those with more extensive skin involvement or SS often require systemic treatment.

Although mycosis fungoides and Sézary syndrome are the most common types of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, they are still quite rare, occurring in only 4-5 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases, with about 3,000 new diagnoses per year. The median age at diagnosis is 50-70, with a prevalence in men and African Americans.

It is in part due to their rarity that doctors and researchers have yet to understand what causes MF/SS. While there is no definitive evidence of familial risk of CTCL, scientists are continually evaluating whether genetics play a role in the disease formation.

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, which enable the immune system to discern between proteins native and foreign to the body, possess specific variations, or alleles, that are inherited via the family germline and passed through generations. When a certain HLA class II allele (specifically DQB1*04) was measured in a study of six families, each with occurrences of mycosis fungoides in two first-degree relatives, researchers found the allele to appear more frequently in patients than in the healthy control population, thus suggesting an association of the allele with familial MF. It is worth noting, however, that although some familial clusters of MF have been reported, the vast majority of CTCL cases occur without a familial link.

Additionally, deep genetic sequencing (whole exome) of mycosis fungoides samples, in which the patients’ DNA was analyzed to identify genetic variants, revealed recurrent mutations that seem to be acquired during a lifetime, rather than inherited – also known as somatic mutations. Somatic mutations are believed to be a leading factor in the unchecked cell division in most cancers. The examples of alterations included genes involved in: T-cell activation and programmed cell death (apoptosis), NF-κB signaling that plays a role in cell proliferation and survival, remodeling of chromatin (the DNA and proteins from which chromosomes are derived), and DNA damage response.

Without any strong scientific evidence of hereditary susceptibility, CTCL will likely continue to be thought of as an acquired disorder. Those with skin rash who are concerned about risk and family history are encouraged to see a dermatologist, who can refer to an oncologist or other specialist if the CTCL diagnosis is confirmed.

References:

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2005 Mar; 52: 393–402.

Nature Genetics, 2015 Sep; 47(9): 1011-9.