Leukemia

Leukemia

Since discovery of the first effective leukemia treatment in the 1940s, researchers have amassed a growing number of therapies to extend survival and cure many different forms of the disease. Research into targeted drugs are also beginning to have a major impact on leukemia treatment.

While certain forms of leukemia can now be cured in up to 95 percent of patients, others are far more challenging and leukemia has proven far more complex than researchers could have imagined in the 1940s. Yet deeper understanding about the disease is fueling the continuous development of new, more effective therapies and is improving survival and quality of life for patients.

Expand All +

2014

Novel immunotherapy sends rare type of leukemia into remission

Novel immunotherapy sends rare type of leukemia into remission

The FDA grants accelerated approval to the immunotherapy blinatumomab (Blincyto) for a rare and aggressive type of leukemia (Philadelphia chromosome-negative precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)). Blinatumomab is approved for patients whose disease worsened or relapsed despite earlier therapies. The approval follows results from a clinical trial showing that blinatumomab leads to complete remission of cancer in nearly a third of patients. Blinatumomab is an antibody that brings the cancer-destroying immune T cells into contact with leukemia cells.

Four new drugs transform CLL treatment

Four new drugs transform CLL treatment

In a span of eight months, the FDA approves four new treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a blood cancer that most commonly develops in older adults. Obinutuzumab (Gazyva) and ofatumumab (Arzerra), approved as initial treatments for CLL, delay cancer worsening by about a year when given with chemotherapy. Targeted drugs idelalisib (Zydelig) and ibrutinib (Imbruvica) were approved for use in patients with CLL that became resistant to or relapsed after standard treatment. In clinical trials, both slowed cancer worsening and ibrutinib also helped patients live longer.  All four new therapies are easier for patients to tolerate than prior therapies, making treatment possible for more patients than ever.  

2010

Adding rituximab extends survival for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Adding rituximab extends survival for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

A large, long-term trial establishes that adding the targeted drug rituximab (Rituxan) to initial treatment with the standard drug fludarabine (Fludara) slows the progression of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and improves survival. This is the first drug regimen ever found to significantly extend the lives of patients with the disease. The trial found that more than 10 percent of patients treated with this regimen had no disease progression after ten years.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors provide additional options for CML

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors provide additional options for CML

Two studies show that dasatinib (Sprycel) and nilotinib (Tasigna) may be more effective than the current standard drug, imatinib (Gleevec), for the initial treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia. Though all three drugs target the same active genetic pathway on the "Philadelphia chromosome," studies suggest the newer drugs possibly elicit faster, stronger responses and cause fewer side effects than imatinib.

2009

Genome of acute myelogenous leukemia is sequenced

Genome of acute myelogenous leukemia is sequenced

Researchers map the genome of a patient with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), one of the most common forms of leukemia. While they find more than one million tiny genetic differences between the genes of the patient's normal cells and the patient's cancer cells, the researchers are able to isolate 10 key genetic pathways that are most likely to be involved in the cancer's development. Four of these had never before been implicated as having a role in leukemia development and growth, and appear to provide the energy that cancer cells need to grow. These findings provide important information to guide the development of future, more effective targeted therapies.

2007

Bendamustine is effective against chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Bendamustine is effective against chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Bendamustine (Treanda), a nitrogen mustard-based drug which has been used in Europe for decades, is found to triple the time it takes for cancer to progress and produce more complete remissions than the standard chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Bendamustine is approved by the FDA as an initial treatment for the disease in early 2008.

Addition of an arsenic compound found to improve survival for rare form of leukemia

Addition of an arsenic compound found to improve survival for rare form of leukemia

A large clinical trial finds that adding arsenic trioxide (Trisenox) to the standard treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) improves survival for adults newly diagnosed with the disease. Arsenic has historically been known as a potent poison, but its use in traditional Chinese medicine led to the development of this drug. The drug is approved by the FDA later the same year.

Study supports expanded use of dasatinib for CML

Study supports expanded use of dasatinib for CML

Research shows that dasatinib (Sprycel) – initially approved for use only when treatment with imatinib fails – should also be an option for initial treatment of early-stage chronic myelogenous leukemia. The FDA approves the drug for this broader indication in 2010, giving patients with CML multiple options for controlling their cancer.

2006

New drug helps CML patients who become resistant to imatinib

New drug helps CML patients who become resistant to imatinib

Researchers identify a second targeted treatment, dasatinib (Sprycel), for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia who cannot tolerate or develop resistance to imatinib (Gleevec). The drug is approved based on study results showing that more than 90 percent of these poor prognosis patients had no evidence of their cancer following dasatinib treatment. Dasatinib targets the same mutated protein as imatinib, but through a different mechanism.

2005

Drug approved to reduce oral sores caused by cancer treatment

2004

Epigenetic drugs approved to prevent cancer in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes

Epigenetic drugs approved to prevent cancer in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes

The FDA approves azacytidine (Vidaza) in 2004 and decitabine (Dacogen) in 2006 for treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a group of serious blood disorders that predispose a person to acute myelogenous leukemia. These targeted drugs interfere with the control of genetic processes that enable cancer cells to develop and multiply. Both drugs are shown to reduce or eliminate the need for blood transfusions – a common MDS treatment that can impair patients' quality of life.

2001

New targeted therapy – imatinib – proven effective against chronic myelogenous leukemia

New targeted therapy – imatinib – proven effective against chronic myelogenous leukemia

The FDA approves imatinib (Gleevec) after just three months of review – the fastest approval in FDA history – based on data showing the drug halted the growth of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in the majority of patients. Imatinib is the first drug proven to shut down a molecular defect known to cause a specific type of cancer – a mutation on the so-called "Philadelphia chromosome." It has since become the standard of care for this disease, and its effectiveness and easily-administered pill formulation enables patients to live with CML as a manageable, chronic disease.

2000

Fludarabine works faster, better for patients with CLL

Fludarabine works faster, better for patients with CLL

A large, long-term clinical trial demonstrates that the drug fludarabine (Fludara) – originally developed as a back-up therapy for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia – works in more patients and produces longer-lasting remissions than the previous standard drug, chlorumbucil (Leukeran). However, the drug only works reliably in patients younger than age 65, and stem cell transplantation from a healthy, matched donor remains the only curative therapy for this disease.