Public Release: 

Young adults with ALL have encouraging survival with pediatric regimen

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

ORLANDO, FL - Using a pediatric chemotherapy regimen to treat young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) significantly improved their outcomes compared to what has historically been achieved with 'adult' treatment protocols, report Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists.

Overall survival and disease-free survival at three years exceeded 70 percent in patients between 18 and 50 years old, according to results of a multi-center phase 2 trial presented at the 57th American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Orlando.

"This is better than the 40 percent historically seen in this patient group," said Richard Stone, MD, senior author of the study abstract, who added that the median survival rate had not yet been reached. Daniel DeAngelo, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber is the first author and leader of the study. This was a single-arm trial with no control group.

ALL is most common in early childhood and most can be successfully treated with chemotherapy. About 1,000 new cases are diagnosed annually in adults, who have a poorer prognosis; most of the deaths from ALL occur in older patients.

DeAngelo and others at Dana-Farber and elsewhere have observed that young adults treated by pediatric oncologists for ALL fared better than those who underwent standard adult regimens, which include more drugs that suppress bone marrow function. As a result, pediatric regimens have been tried in young adult patients, yielding improved outcomes, said Stone. "I've put many patients on this regimen, and they have been doing very well."

Earlier in 2015, DeAngelo and Stone reported in Leukemia that a pediatric drug combination that included a native E.coli¬ asparaginase compound achieved a four-year disease-free and overall survival rate of 69 percent.

The current successor trial was carried out to determine if the same regimen but using a safer and longer lasting compound, pegylated asparaginase, could be feasibly administered to adults. In this trial, 110 high-risk young adult ALL patients received the pediatric regimen, given initially to induce a remission followed -- in those who achieved remission -- by two years of consolidation and continuation therapy. They also received additional chemotherapy and radiation designed to kill any leukemia cells in the brain and central nervous system.

The survival gains came at a cost of toxicity resulting in two deaths, pancreatitis in four patients, allergic reactions, infections, and blood clots. "The dose and schedule of pegylated asparaginase that is well-tolerated in adults is lower than can be used in pediatric patients," the authors cautioned.

Nevertheless, they concluded that the regimen is "tolerable in young adults with ALL and represent a major therapeutic advance."

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About Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

From achieving the first remissions in cancer with chemotherapy in 1948, to developing the very latest new therapies, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is one of the world's leading centers of cancer research and treatment. It is the only center ranked in the top 4 of U.S. News and World Report's Best Hospitals for both adult and pediatric cancer care.

Dana-Farber sits at the center of a wide range of collaborative efforts to reduce the burden of cancer through scientific inquiry, clinical care, education, community engagement, and advocacy. Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center provides the latest in cancer care for adults; Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for children. The Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center unites the cancer research efforts of five Harvard academic medical centers and two graduate schools, while Dana-Farber Community Cancer Care provides high quality cancer treatment in communities outside Boston's Longwood Medical Area.

Dana-Farber is dedicated to a unique 50/50 balance between cancer research and care, and much of the Institute's work is dedicated to translating the results of its discovery into new treatments for patients locally, and around the world.

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