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Study offers hope for life-extending leukaemia drug

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A drug that extends the lives of leukaemia patients when added to regular chemotherapy treatments has ‘extremely significant’ implications for the future treatment of the disease, a study has revealed.

Clinical trials reveal that previously untreated chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) patients who were given a combination of MabThera (rituximab) and regular chemotherapy live longer and have a higher likelihood of going into remission compared with those given chemotherapy alone.

Figures released during a presentation at the American Society of Haematology conference in New Orleans reveal that 84.1% of patients given the new cocktail of drugs were still alive after 37.7 months, compared with 79% given ‘regular’ treatment.

The remission rates were most striking, with 44.1% of those given the experimental treatment entering remission compared with 21.8% who were undertaking regular chemotherapy.

Adding MabThera to chemotherapy also extends the length of time people live without progression of their disease by 19 months compared with chemotherapy alone.

Professor Peter Hillmen, consultant haematologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “These results are extremely significant.

“The combination of rituximab and fludarabine-based chemotherapy has proven to be a formidable partnership, sending more patients into remission, extending the period before their leukaemia returns and now increasing the length of time people survive overall.”

The new treatment, which has been approved by NICE for use on the NHS, has wide ranging implications for the successful future treatment of CLL patients, of whom there are approximately 20,000 in the UK.

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