CLL treatments: cancer Advance of the Year

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has named its cancer Advance of the Year as the transformation of treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of adult leukaemia.

Now in its tenth year, the Advance of the Year is part of ASCO’s Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer, called Clinical Cancer Advances 2015.

ASCO selected CLL for the accolade as, until recently, it has had few effective treatment options. Now, however, four newly approved therapies look set to dramatically improve the outlook for patients: two immunotherapy drugs for previously untreated CLL, Roche’s Gazyva (obinutuzumab) and GlaxoSmithKline’s Arzerra (ofatumumab) (in combination with standard chemotherapy), plus two molecularly targeted drugs for treatment-resistant or relapsed CLL, Janssen and Pharmacyclics’ Imbruvica (ibrutinib) and Gilead’s Zydelig (idelalisib).

“These new therapies fill an enormous need for thousands of patients living with CLL,” said Dr Gregory Masters, ASCO expert and co-executive editor of the report. “For many older patients, especially, these drugs essentially offer the first chance at effective treatment, since the side effects of earlier options were simply too toxic for many to handle.”

However, the report emphasised the vital role of federally-funded research in the advances made against cancer, with ASCO president, Peter Yu pointing out that almost a third of the year’s top studies had been backed in this way. He said: “This has truly been a banner year for CLL and for clinical cancer research as a whole. Advances in cancer prevention and care, especially those in precision medicine, are offering stunning new possibilities for patients… We cannot underestimate the importance of federal investment for answering critical cancer care questions, particularly in rare, under-studied cancers.”

ASCO’s chief medical officer Richard Schilsky cautioned that the US federal cancer research enterprise faced critical funding challenges that threatened the future pace of research and called for the US to increase investment to build on recent successes.

The report also covers major trends in cancer prevention and screening, treatment, quality of life, survivorship and tumour biology, reviews cancer advances over the past decade and examines the trends likely to shape the next decade of cancer care, including genomic technology, nanomedicine, and health information technologies. It also looks at progress in rare cancers.

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2014: a remarkable year in cancer therapy

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