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Personalised treatment helps adult leukaemia patients live longer

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Personalised treatment for the most common form of adult leukaemia helps patients survive for longer and stay in remission, a recent phase III trial has found.

The data reveals that the duration of therapy can be individualised for each patient by using regular blood tests to monitor their response.

In the trial, the approach resulted in significant improvements in both progression-free and overall survival in patients with previously untreated chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

The effect was stronger among patients with poorer outcomes to standard treatments, such as those with certain genetic mutations.

Lead author Peter Hillmen is Professor of Experimental Haematology in the University of Leeds’ School of Medicine, and Honorary Consultant Haematologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

The researcher said: “Our findings show that, for this group of patients, the treatment is very effective at tackling their disease and is well tolerated by them.

“This means that patients on our trial had better outcomes while also enjoying a better quality of life during their treatment.

“Most patients treated with the new combination have no detectable leukaemia in their blood or bone marrow by the end of treatment which is better than with previous treatments and is very encouraging.”

Adult patients were given a combination of cancer growth blocking drugs over various durations depending on how rapidly their disease responded.

The trial found that the approach significantly improved progression-free and overall survival compared to the standard treatment for CLL, with more than 19 in 20 patients in remission three years after starting treatment.

The FLAIR study is a phase III randomised controlled trial for untreated CLL, taking place in more than 100 hospitals across the UK.

The trial was funded by Cancer Research UK, Janssen Research & Development, LLC, and AbbVie Pharmaceutical Research and Development.

Dr Iain Foulkes, Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “We are delighted to see these results from the FLAIR trial which show the importance and effectiveness of tailoring cancer treatment to the individual patient.

“Not only this, but the trial has found a way to do so without requiring frequent bone marrow tests which are more invasive and can be painful.

“The collaborative effort that went into this trial – involving researchers, healthcare professionals, funders and dedicated patients and their families – point to a new standard of care which could see real progress made against leukaemia.”

CLL affects the blood and bone marrow.

The condition cannot usually be cured but can be managed with treatment. More than nine in 10 people are aged 55 and over when they are diagnosed with CLL.

Current treatments include chemotherapy, immunotherapy and cancer growth blockers.

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