According to a recent article published in Clinical Cancer Research, the monoclonal antibody epratuzumab produces anti-cancer responses in patients with recurrent, aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) is a form of cancer that begins in the cells of the lymph system. The lymph system includes the spleen, thymus, tonsils, bone marrow, lymph nodes and circulating immune cells. The main cells in the lymph system are lymphocytes, of which there are two types: B and T-cells. Each of these cells has a very specific function in aiding the body to fight infection. NHL is characterized by the excessive accumulation of atypical (cancerous) lymphocytes. These lymphocytes can crowd the lymph system and suppress the formation and function of other immune and blood cells. While NHL is categorized by the type of lymphocyte it involves, it is also further defined by the rate at which the cancer grows, based on the appearance of the cells under a microscope. High-grade or aggressive NHL is the fastest growing and low-grade or indolent lymphoma is the slowest growing. Recurrent lymphoma is cancer that has returned following therapy and refractory lymphoma is cancer that has stopped responding to standard therapies.

Researchers are evaluating newer biological therapies, types of treatment that help utilize the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer, for patients with recurrent or refractory NHL. One type of biological therapy involves monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are proteins and/or carbohydrates that can be modified and produced through laboratory processes. They are developed so that they can bind to very specific components of cells called antigens. Specific antigens can be found on different types of cells, so that monoclonal antibodies can be designed to target individual types of cells in the body. Epratuzumab has been designed to bind to an antigen called the CD-22 antigen, which is found on B lymphocytes, the type of cell that is cancerous in many types of NHL. This binding action produces several responses within the cell and body, which ultimately provide anti-cancer activity, including the initiation of an immune response to discard the cancerous B lymphocyte to which epratuzumab is bound. Epratuzumab is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of several types of NHL.

Researchers from the United States recently conducted a multi-center clinical trial to evaluate epratuzumab in the treatment of patients with aggressive NHL that had recurred following previous therapies. This trial included 56 patients who had been treated on average with 4 prior therapeutic regimens, and 25% of whom had been treated with prior high-dose therapy and stem cell transplantation. Over 80% of patients had very advanced disease. Following treatment with epratuzumab, 20% of patients had experienced an anti-cancer response. The average duration of anti-cancer responses was 26 weeks and the average duration of progression-free survival in patients who achieved a response was 35 weeks. Epratuzumab was very well tolerated.

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The researchers concluded that epratuzumab may provide an effective treatment option for patients with heavily pre-treated aggressive NHL. Future clinical trials will establish the effectiveness of epratuzumab earlier in the course of disease and/or in combination with other standard therapies such as chemotherapy. Patients with aggressive NHL that has stopped responding to standard therapies may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating epratuzumab or other novel therapeutic approaches. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov ) and www.cancerconsultants.com. Personalized clinical trial searches are also performed on behalf of patients at cancerconsultants.com.

Reference: Leonard J, Coleman M, Ketas J, et al. Epratuzumab, a Humanized Anti-CD22 Antibody, in Aggressive Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Clinical Cancer Research . 2004; 10, 5327-5334.

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