Zevalin approved as first-line non-Hodgkin lymphoma therapy

The approval of Zevalin (ibritumomab tiuxetan) as a first-line therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma was announced today. The drug was originally approved in 2002 for NHL patients whose cancer recurred or progressed after other therapies. The new approval was based on a phase III study where patients whose cancer responded to first-line chemotherapy were given Zevalin. At 3.5 years follow-up, the group that received Zevalin as part of their first-line treatment had a significantly better median progression-free survival time than the control group (38 months compared to 18 months). An antibody that contains a radioactive molecule, Zevalin works by delivering a lethal dose of DNA-damaging radiation to tumor cells. However, many NHL patients are only offered the drug as a last resort. Bruce Cheson, MD, head of hematology and director of hematology research at Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University, told CURE earlier this year that radioactive drugs, such as Zevalin and a similar drug, Bexxar (tositumomab), are some of the most effective NHL therapies on the market, but are also some of the least used. They are expensive (costing about $25,000 per treatment) and must be administered in a hospital under the supervision of a radiologist because of the drugs' radioactivity. I'm not sure how Zevalin's most recent approval will help tackle the issue of cost and availability, but at least the option is now there for newly diagnosed NHL patients. An announcement on the drug's recent approval issued by the drug's manufacturer, Spectrum, mentioned that the company has plans to overcome these issues, which have plagued Zevalin since its original approval. You can read more about Zevalin--and view an illustration on how the drug works--in Trying Something New from CURE's Spring 2009 issue.