CLL - Episode 4
FOR YOUR REFERENCE: What Are Clinical Trials?
Clinical trials determine whether a drug works in humans and whether it is safe and effective. To find out whether a drug can be approved for use, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires four phases of a clinical trial. The number of participants increases in each phase, starting from 20 to 80 people for a phase 1 trial to up to 3,000 for a phase 3 trial (Figure 1).1
FOR YOUR REFERENCE: What Is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia?
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a form of cancer that starts in the blood-forming cells in bone marrow that become certain white blood cells, called lymphocytes. In CLL, cancer occurs in B cells, a type of lymphocyte, which defends your body against infection. These cells change and become cancer cells, or leukemia cells, that can grow out of control and spread by traveling into the blood to other parts of the body.2
Patients with CLL may experience symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, weight loss, chills, fever, night sweats, swollen lymph nodes, pain and a sense of fullness in the belly. Although these signs and symptoms can point to CLL, tests are needed for a diagnosis. Many people with CLL do not have any symptoms at the time they receive their diagnosis; their leukemia is found during blood tests for unrelated health issues or routine checkups.3 CLL is usually recognized when blood counts performed for unrelated reasons reveal lymphocytosis, or a higher-than-normal amount of lymphocytes in the body.
Treatment options for patients with CLL include the following4:
Patients undergoing CLL treatment often experience a complete or partial response to initial therapy — but not always. Consequently, CLL can be classified as relapsed or refractory (R/R), depending on how the disease responds to treatment. Relapsed CLL describes CLL that responded to therapy initially, but stopped responding after six or more months. Refractory CLL refers to CLL that does not respond to treatment, or result in the disappearance of signs of disease (but might be stable), or CLL that worsens within six months of the last treatment.5
FOR YOUR REFERENCE: What Agents Were Investigated in the UNITY-CLL Trial?
The combination of Gazyva (obinutuzumab) and Leukeran (chlorambucil, a chemotherapy drug) is an established FDA-approved combination treatment for adults patients who have not had previous CLL treatment.
Ukoniq (umbralisib) and ublituximab are targeted drugs that are newer treatments for CLL. These drugs affect mainly CLL cells and not normal cells in the body. They may work even if other treatment doesn’t. The drugs often come as pills that be taken at home. These drugs have different, often less severe, side effects than chemotherapy.
Ukoniq is a PI3K inhibitor that blocks a specific protein in B cells, called PI3K delta, that contributes to CLL and SLL growth. PI3K inhibitors may delay or prevent the growth of leukemia cells. Ukoniq also inhibits CK1-epsilon, which is a protein that helps CLL cancer cells survive, multiply and grow.6 It is FDA-approved for other lymphoid malignancies (that are relapsed or refractory after prior treatment marginal zone lymphoma and follicular lymphoma).
Ublituximab is a monoclonal antibody, a type of immune system protein that attaches to CLL cells and causes them to die. This is an investigative drug that is administered intravenously. It is shown to be well tolerated by patients and can be used alone or in combination with other agents.7
ASH 2020: Results From the UNITY-CLL Study of Ublituximab Doublet Versus Chemoimmunotherapy in CLL
In the phase 3 UNITY-CLL study, ublituximab in combination with Ukoniq (a combination referred to as U2) was evaluated in patients with treatment-naïve or R/R CLL. The U2 combination worked better for the patients in this study compared with chemoimmunotherapy, regardless of the patients’ prior treatment.8
The study included 421 patients: 57% had treatment-naïve CLL and 43% had R/R CLL. Patients received either U2 (210 patients) or Gazyva plus Leukeran (211 patients).8
At a median follow-up of 37 months, U2 significantly prolonged progression-free survival (PFS; time without disease progression) compared with Gazyva plus Leukeran. At the time of follow-up, treatment was ongoing for 77 patients (37%) with U2. These median PFS outcomes are provided below by subgroup8:
Researchers also studied the patients’ overall response rate (ORR) and complete response (CR). The ORR for the U2 group was 83.3% compared with 68.7% for the Gazyva plus Leukeran group. Of the patients who responded to treatment, 5% achieved a CR or CR with incomplete marrow recovery with U2 versus 1% with the combination. More patients achieved a partial response in the U2 group than the Gazyva plus Leukeran group (79% vs. 67%).8
The ORRs were also higher in subgroup analyses in the U2 group compared with the Gazyva plus Leukeran group8:
The safety of U2 was assessed from the first dose until 30 days after the last dose.8 Overall, the U2 regimen was associated with low rates of immune-mediated toxicities, including diarrhea, colitis, pneumonia and hepatic toxicity.8,9 Side effects led to treatment discontinuation in 35 patients (17%) in the U2 group and 16 patients (8%) in the Gazyva and Leukeran group.8
The treatment-naïve patients had more frequent diarrhea than the patients who had prior therapy (13.8% vs. 10.0%). On the other hand, neutropenia (an abnormally low count of a type of white blood cell) was more frequent in patients who had prior therapy compared with the treatment-naïve patients (24.1% vs. 40.0%).8
Serious side effects of clinical interest that occurred at a higher rate with U2 than with Gazyva and Leukeran, respectively, were8:
TG Therapeutics, Inc. has submitted a biologic license application with the FDA based on data from the UNITY-CLL study. The company plans to complete a new drug application submission for the U2 combination in CLL in 2021.10
Not all patients qualify for certain clinical trials. If you are interested in enrolling in a trial, talk to your doctor about which treatment options would be most appropriate for you.
FOR YOUR REFERENCE: Glossary of Terms
Alanine transaminase (ALT): ALT is an enzyme found in the liver that helps convert proteins into energy for the liver cells. When the liver is damaged, ALT is released into the bloodstream and levels increase.
Aspartate transaminase (AST): AST is an enzyme that helps metabolize amino acids. Like ALT, AST is normally present in blood at low levels. An increase in AST levels may indicate liver damage, disease or muscle damage.
B cells: one type of white blood cell that is an important part of your immune system (the body’s defense against infection)
Bone marrow: spongy tissue inside of bones; cells that make blood cells are found in the bone marrow
Chemotherapy: treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. These drugs are taken by mouth or injected and enter the bloodstream so they can help cancers that spread throughout the body (like CLL). This can affect cancer cells and normal cells
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: a type of cancer that starts in certain white blood cells (called lymphocytes) in the bone marrow
Clinical trials: research investigations in which people volunteer to test experimental treatments; these trials evaluate the safety and efficacy of experimental treatments
Colitis: a condition marked by inflammation of the lining of the colon
Efficacy: the ability to produce a desired outcome; in the case of cancer treatments, the desired outcome is a decrease in the number of cancer cells or the disappearance of cancer cells
Gazyva (obinutuzumab): a type of antibody therapy that targets and attaches to the CD20 proteins found on follicular lymphoma cells. It may help a patient’s immune system kill cancer cells or kill cancer cells directly. It can also harm healthy blood cells
Immunotherapy: treatment that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases
Liver enzymes: certain enzymes and proteins in your blood. Levels that are higher or lower than normal may indicate liver problems. Alanine transaminase, aspartate transaminase and bilirubin are examples of liver enzymes that are tested with blood tests
Leukemia: cancer of the blood or bone marrow
Lymphocytes: a type of white blood cells
Opportunistic infections: infections that occur more frequently in people with weakened immune systems
Overall response rate: the proportion of patients with a reduction in cancer over a predefined amount of time
Phase 1 study: tests an experimental treatment on a small group of often healthy people
Phase 2 study: uses more people and emphasizes effectiveness
Phase 3 study: gathers more information about safety and effectiveness, studying different populations and different dosages, using the drug in combination with other drugs
Phase 4 study: usually occurs after FDA approval of the treatment; monitors safety and effectiveness in large, diverse populations; and collects information on long-term side effects
PI3K inhibitor: a targeted therapy that works by blocking a specific protein in B cells, called PI3K delta, that contributes to CLL and SLL growth. PI3K inhibitors may delay or prevent the growth of leukemia cells
Pneumonitis: a condition marked by inflammation of lung tissue
Progression-free survival: the length of time during and after the treatment of a disease that a patient lives with the disease but it does not get worse
Radiation therapy: type of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells
Refractory: a disease state or condition that does not respond to treatment or medication. Refers to when the lymphoma does not respond to treatment (the cancer cells continue to grow) or when the response to treatment does not last very long.
Relapsed: a return of signs and symptoms of cancer after a period of treatment or medication. Relapsed is the disease that returns or grows again after a period of remission following one or more treatments. Marked by an initial response to treatment that is no longer present after six months or more
Side effects: any undesirable experience associated with the use of a medical product in a patient
Small lymphocytic lymphoma: a cancer that affects a type of white blood cell
Targeted therapy: a cancer treatment that uses drugs to target specific aspects of the cancer cells
Treatment-naïve CLL: disease that has not yet been treated with any agent
Ukoniq (umbralisib): an FDA-approved oral PI3K inhibitor indicated for the treatment of adult patients with R/R marginal zone lymphoma who have received at least one prior anti-CD20 based regimen and adult patients with R/R follicular lymphoma who have received at least three prior lines of systemic therapy
Ublituximab: a type of antibody therapy IgG1 monoclonal antibody that targets and attaches to the CD20 proteins on CLL cells to kill them
Watchful waiting: a strategy in which treatment is not started right away; instead, symptoms are observed and time is allowed to pass before medical intervention or therapy is used
White blood cells: a type of cell that is found in the blood and lymph tissue that helps fight infections and other diseases. Lymphocytes (T and B cells) are a type of white blood cell
1. What are clinical trials and studies? National Institute on Aging. Updated April 9, 2020. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-clinical-trials-and-studies
2. What is chronic lymphocytic leukemia? American Cancer Society. Updated May 10, 2018. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia/about/what-is-cll.html
3. Signs and symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. American Cancer Society. Updated May 10, 2018. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
4. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment (PDQ)-patient version. National Cancer Institute. Updated November 25, 2020. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/patient/cll-treatment-pdq
5. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Updated 2014. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://www.lls.org/sites/default/files/file_assets/cll.pdf
6. Umbralisib (TGR-1202) is an inhibitor of PI3K-delta and CK1-epsilon. TG Therapeutics, Inc. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.tgtherapeutics.com/our-pipeline/umbralisib/
7. Ublituximab (TG-1101) is a novel glycoengineered anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody. TG Therapeutics, Inc. Accessed March 29, 2020. https://www.tgtherapeutics.com/our-pipeline/ublituximab/
8. Gribben JG, Jurczak W, Jacobs R, et al. Umbralisib plus ublituximab (U2) is superior to obinutuzumab plus chlorambucil (O+Chl) in patients with treatment naïve (TN) and relapsed/refractory (R/R) chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): results from the phase 3 Unity-CLL study. Presented at: 62nd ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition; December 5-8, 2020; virtual. Abstract 543. Accessed December 7, 2020. https://ash.confex.com/ash/2020/webprogram/Paper134783.html
9. Lunning M, Vose J, Nastoupil L, et al. Ublituximab and umbralisib in relapsed/refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Blood. 2019;134(21):1811-1820. doi:10.1182/blood.2019002118
10. TG Therapeutics completes rolling submission of biologics license application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for ublituximab in combination with UKONIQ (umbralisib) as a treatment for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. News release. TG Therapeutics, Inc. March 29, 2021. Accessed April 2, 2021. https://bit.ly/3wlJAG
Supported by Bristol Myers Squibb
Sponsored by Loxo Oncology at Lilly
Funding provided by an unrestricted educational grant from Pharmacyclics, an AbbVie Company and Janssen Biotech, Inc.