Doctors at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Melbourne Hospital have joined forces with pharmaceutical companies in a world-leading clinical trial showing early signs of promising results.

Doctors at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Melbourne Hospital have joined forces with pharmaceutical companies in a world-leading clinical trial showing early signs of promising results.

The investigator-led trial combines two novel and highly targeted anti-cancer drugs – ibrutinib and venetoclax (also known as ABT-199) – to treat patients with mantle cell lymphoma.

“Mantle cell lymphoma is an uncommon subtype of lymphoma that is often incurable with conventional chemotherapy treatments,” says Professor John Seymour, Co-Director of Cancer Medicine at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

“When it becomes resistant to chemotherapy, no effective treatments are currently available.

“For this trial, we’ve combined two drugs that work in different ways to shrink mantle cell lymphoma. Individually they are very effective for some time however eventually the cancer becomes resistant to each drug. By using them together, we are seeing even better responses.”

John Fairfield from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is the first patient in the world to receive the combination therapy and reports remarkable results.

“Four months ago, the lymphoma was invading my lung and I was so breathless I could barely walk across the room.

“I now take eight tablets a day, and my breathing has returned to normal. My scans and bone marrow tests have shown a complete regression of my lymphoma. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved in the study.”

As with any new therapy, more research is required to confirm the power of the combination treatment.

“We are very encouraged by the early results, and we have not observed any unusual side-effects in the three patients treated so far,” says Professor Andrew Roberts from The Royal Melbourne Hospital, “but we need more participants to confirm the effectiveness and safety of the treatment. We would encourage patients with mantle cell lymphoma that has come back after treatment to discuss with their doctors whether this trial may be suitable for them.”

Although mantle cell lymphoma is relatively uncommon in Australia, with a few hundred cases diagnosed each year, new treatments that are effective for this disease are usually also active against more common blood cancers such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia and other forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“We see the combination of ibrutinib and venetoclax not as a boutique therapy for an uncommon disease, but as a new treatment platform with the potential to be applied more broadly across a range of related blood cancers,” says Dr Constantine Tam from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

“The promising signals seen so far suggest that this combination may have the potential to replace chemotherapy for a variety of common leukemias and lymphoma that afflict everyday Australians in the not-so-distant future.”