A study led by Manchester scientists has shown promising results for a new treatment approach in follicular lymphoma.

Follicular lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a blood cancer, that usually develops slowly but the majority of patients are diagnosed when their disease is already at an advanced stage.

Recent improvements in treatment have included the use of antibodies to specifically target the tumour cells and to stimulate the patient's own immune system to attack their tumor. The use of such antibodies has improved treatment response, but unfortunately most patients still relapse. Radioimmunotherapy – where a radioactive substance is attached to the antibody – has been shown to be successful in treating patients who had previously relapsed. 

Now a team has investigated the use of radioimmunotherapy treatment in newly diagnosed patients and the work,
published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, has shown promising results. 

The study looked at the effect of delivering the treatment in two fractions or doses – this approach is thought to improve the penetration of the drug within larger tumors and also helps reduce the side effects associated with a full dose treatment.

Professor Tim Illidge of the University of Manchester, who led the research, says, "This was the first study to look at giving two fractions of radioimmunotherapy as an initial treatment in follicular lymphoma. We wanted to assess its safety and effectiveness in a group of high-risk patients who conventionally have done less well."

The researchers found that that their treatment plan was feasible and safe, with very few side effects.

"We saw a high overall response rate, of 94.4%, and 50 of the 72 (69.4%) patients treated in the study achieved complete response – meaning their symptoms disappeared. These results are encouraging, but we need further studies in larger numbers of patients to fully compare this treatment to the standard treatment of 6-8 cycles of chemotherapy," added Illidge.

Citation: Illidge TM, Mayes S, Pettengell R, Bates AT, Bayne M, Radford JA, Ryder WD, Le Gouill S, Jardin F, Tipping J, Zivanovic M, Kraeber-Bodere F, Bardies M, Bodet-Milin C, Malek E, Huglo D, Morschhauser F. (2014). Fractionated 90Y-Ibritumomab Tiuxetan Radioimmunotherapy as an Initial Therapy of Follicular Lymphoma: An International Phase II Study in Patients Requiring Treatment According to GELF-BNLI Criteria', J C O, 32(3), 212-218. eScholarID:218923. Source: University of Manchester