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Spring 2010
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Antibody Drug Treatment Bolsters Fight Against B-Cell Lymphomas

04/01/2010

VS-Spring2010-B-CellLymphomasThe emergence of antibody drug treatments has substantially improved the prognosis for people with some of the most common types of lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system that has been on the rise in the United States for decades.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — any of a large group of cancers of the lymphatic system that comprise 90 percent of all lymphomas — is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Approximately 75,000 people are diagnosed each year, which, for reasons that aren’t well understood, is nearly double the annual U.S. incidence in the 1970s.

But in the last decade, treatment of B-cell lymphomas — the vast majority of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas — has improved considerably with the addition of antibody drug treatments that turn a patient’s immune system against the lymphatic cancer cells. “These antibodies represent a more rational, targeted approach to killing the cancer cells without the side effects of chemotherapy,” says Lauren Pinter-Brown, M.D., director of the UCLA Lymphoma Program, which has been among the centers conducting clinical trials of the new therapies. “Our program is very heavily invested in continuing to look for new and better antibodies for these diseases.”

When rituximab was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an antibody treatment for B-cell lymphomas in 1998, it represented a major breakthrough. “The survival rates for the most common lymphomas have gone up dramatically with this drug,” Dr. Pinter-Brown says. “It has had a huge impact on these patients.”

But Dr. Pinter-Brown notes that some lymphomas are resistant to the drug, necessitating the development of additional antibodies. Last year, a new antibody for B-cell lymphomas, ofatumumab, was approved. The new drug is for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia who don’t benefit from other treatments. A host of other antibodies for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other B-cell lymphomas are currently showing promise in clinical trials, Dr. Pinter-Brown says.

VS-Spring2010-LymphomaTreatment“The more we move toward these antibodies,” she explains, “the more apparent it becomes that we need to develop therapies rationally targeted to the specific nature of the lymphoma we are treating rather than following a one-size-fits-all approach. We have made enormous advances, and we can continue to do better.”

On other fronts, UCLA last year participated in an international trial to treat peripheral T-cell lymphoma, resulting in approval of a new chemotherapy drug, pralatrexate. Researchers at UCLA were major contributors to the study and to the presentation to the FDA. While T-cell lymphoma represents only 20 percent of lymphoma cases, it is common in many parts of the world, particularly in Asia and South America. Peripheral T-cell lymphoma is the most aggressive form of the disease. Previously, Dr. Pinter-Brown notes, patients with peripheral T-cell lymphoma have been treated with the same drugs as patients with B-cell lymphomas, but those drugs were not effective for them.





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