The life-extending antibody drug MabThera (rituximab) is to be made available to all chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) patients after being granted a licence by European regulators.
It had been available only to newly-diagnosed patients prior to trials showing that, combined with chemotherapy, it doubled the number achieving complete remission. Progression of the disease was halted for an average of 10 months.
Says Professor Andrew Pettitt, consultant haematologist at Royal Liverpool University Hospital: "The partnering of rituximab with chemotherapy is one of the most significant advances we have seen in this type of leukaemia – it has improved patient outcomes considerably.”
MabThera is a precisely-targeted drug that tackles specific causes of the disease by exploiting laboratory-manufactured antibodies. In the UK, 20,000 people have CLL.
The drug was originally intended to treat lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis, and was granted a licence in March for previously untreated patients with CLL.