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Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have reported that Oncaspar® (pegaspargase) can be safely given intravenously (IV) to children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The details of this study were reported at the December 2006 meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

Leukemia is a cancer that originates in immune cells. There are several different types of leukemia; ALL is considered to be an aggressive form of the disease. In 2006 it was estimated that 25,000 individuals would be diagnosed with leukemia, 6,500 of which would be ALL.

Oncaspar is a drug that produces its anticancer effects by “breaking down” asparagine, a substance normally found in the body that is involved in biological processes that are essential for cells to live. Healthy cells are able to create asparagine for themselves. Leukemic cancer cells, however, do not produce asparagine for themselves. So, when Oncaspar depletes cancer cells of asparagine, these cells are deprived of the amino acids they need for protein synthesis (the process in which cells build proteins); this activity thus kills the cancer cells. Because healthy cells make asparagine for themselves, they do not tend to be as affected by Oncaspar.

In the U.S. asparaginases have often been given intramuscularly (IM) because of concerns about the potential toxicity of IV administration. To evaluate IV administration of Oncaspar, researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston gave a single IV dose of Oncaspar to 66 children with ALL.

  • Treatment produced the desired serum levels of asparaginase, similar to those seen after IM administration and with minimal toxicity.
  • Only three patients experienced asparaginase-related toxicities. The toxic effects experienced by these patients were blood clot, mild inflammation of the pancreas, and allergic reaction.
  • There were no effects of patient age on serum asparaginase levels or toxicities.
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The researchers concluded that IV administration of Oncaspar was safe. They are currently comparing IV to IM injection in a randomized trial.

Reference:Silverman LB, Stevenson K, Neuberg D, et al*.* Intravenous PEG Asparaginase during Remission Induction for Childhood ALL. Blood. 2006;108: Abstract #1854.

Related News: Oncaspar® Approved for Initial Treatment of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (7/25/2006)

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