Treating follicular lymphoma (FL) with “maintenance therapy” can halve the likelihood of a relapse, experts have found.
The new approach involved 1,200 patients given standard chemotherapy plus low doses of the targeted antibody drug rituximab.
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The French-led trial found that after two years, 82% of patients who received the two-monthly maintenance therapy were still symptom-free. Patients not given the ongoing treatment were twice as likely to relapse.
More than 15,000 people are affected by FL in the UK.
European regulators have now approved use of the drug, marketed as MabThera, as a maintenance treatment for FL. However, it is not yet known if the approach will be adopted by the NHS.
First it has to be assessed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which judges the effectiveness of new treatments in England and Wales. A decision is expected next year.
A key consideration will be cost. Maintenance therapy with rituximab costs £611 per month, or £7,332 a year.
Professor Graham Jackson, consultant haematologist at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, said: “The approval of rituximab as first-line maintenance therapy is not only a significant improvement in the way we can manage FL, it also moves us another step closer to a turning point in the way in which cancer is treated.”