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Cancer drug licensed for relapsed leukaemia patients

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Relapsed leukaemia patients have been given new hope after the European Medicines Agency issued fresh guidelines allowing them to be prescribed a life-extending cancer treatment.

Rituximab, which has the capacity to increase life expectancy by as much as 10 months or completely halt the disease, had previously only been available to newly-diagnosed chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) patients.

The new ruling means that two-thirds of the 20,000 people in the UK whose CLL has relapsed will now be eligible for the treatment.

Rituximab is a drug that uses manufactured antibodies to tackle the precise causes of disease. The drug was originally launched for treating lymphoma patients and is also prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis. It was first granted a licence in March for previously untreated patients with CLL.

Professor Andrew Pettitt, consultant haematologist at Royal Liverpool University Hospital, one of the trial investigators, said: ‘The partnering of rituximab with chemotherapy is one of the most significant advances we have seen in this type of leukaemia - it has improved patient outcomes considerably.’

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