Jul 21, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

New Cancer Pill Found More Effective Against Leukemia Than Chemo, Study Shows

Dec 08, 2015 03:50 AM EST

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A new study reveals that a cancer drug by Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie called Imbruvica can significantly decrease risk of death and slow down disease advancement. In comparison with chemotherapy or chlorambucil, research estimated an 84 percent lowered risk.

The experiment includes 269 patients suffering with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and with ages 65 years and above. In a comparative study between Imbruvica and chemotherapy groups, 3 and 17 deaths were, respectively, recorded.

"If you move this drug into previously untreated patients, it looks even better than what we've seen before," lead author Dr. Jan Burger said. Imbruvica is an approved cancer medicine indicated for patients with CLL who underwent at least one prior therapy.

The study initially aims to measure the median progression-free survival, or PFS. It is the length of time during and at the end of treating a disease that the patient lives without experiencing relapse. In short, it is a way to determine whether the treatment received suits well with the patient.

In chlorambucil, median PFS is 18.9 months, while Imbruvica has not been reached yet, according to Fox News. In fact, after 18 months of Imbruvica treatment, 90 percent still had no signs of relapse.

With these data in hand, the pharmaceutical companies are aiming to seek approval to make Imbruvica a primary treatment option for CLL. This can not only increase their sales but also refrain from adverse effects brought by chemotherapy.

"In every measurable way it is so clearly better (than chemotherapy) that the data argue for supporting approval," Burger stated. J&J is expecting a response from the health regulators next year.

The overall response rate, according to researchers, claims a twofold reduction in 86 and 35 percent in patients receiving Imbruvica and chlorambucil, respectively. Complete response was also reported in 4 percent in the Imbruvica versus 2 percent in the chemotherapy groups. And lastly, complaints of side effects were noted in 23 percent of chlorambucil users but only 9 percent in Imbruvica patients.

"Most interestingly, ibrutinib significantly improved bone marrow function", Dr. Alessandra Tedeschi said. "This is very important for elderly patients, for whom bone marrow failure is a common cause of death."

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