Clinical Review

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: A Review of TKI Therapy

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The most common cause of TKI resistance in CP-CML is the development of ABL kinase domain mutations. The majority of imatinib-resistant mutations can be overcome by the use of second-generation TKIs including dasatinib, nilotinib, or bosutinib. However, ponatinib is the only BCR-ABL1 TKI able to overcome a T315I mutation. The phase 2 PACE (Ponatinib Ph-positive ALL and CML Evaluation) trial enrolled patients with CP-, AP-, or BP-CML as well as patients with Ph-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia who were resistant or intolerant to nilotinib or dasatinib, or who had evidence of a T315I mutation. The starting dose of ponatinib on this trial was 45 mg daily.18 The PACE trial enrolled 267 patients with CP-CML: 203 with resistance or intolerance to nilotinib or dasatinib, and 64 with a T315I mutation. The primary endpoint in the CP cohort was rate of MCyR at any time within 12 months of starting ponatinib. The overall rate of MCyR by 12 months in the CP-CML patients was 56%. In those with a T315I mutation, 70% achieved MCyR, which compared favorably with those with resistance or intolerance to nilotinib or dasatinib, 51% of whom achieved MCyR. CCyR was achieved in 46% of CP-CML patients (40% in the resistant/intolerant cohort and 66% in the T315I cohort). In general, patients with T315I mutations received fewer prior therapies than those in the resistant/intolerant cohort, which likely contributed to the higher response rates in the T315I patients. MR4.5 was achieved in 15% of CP-CML patients by 12 months on the PACE trial.18 The 5-year update to this study reported that 60%, 40%, and 24% of CP-CML patients achieved MCyR, MMR, and MR4.5, respectively. In the patients who achieved MCyR, the probability of maintaining this response for 5 years was 82% and the estimated 5-year OS was 73%.19


In 2013, after the regulatory approval of ponatinib, reports became available that the drug can cause an increase in arterial occlusive events including fatal myocardial infarctions and cerebral vascular accidents. For this reason, dose reductions were implemented in patients who were deriving clinical benefit from ponatinib. In spite of these dose reductions, ≥90% of responders maintained their response for up to 40 months.19 Although the likelihood of developing an arterial occlusive event appears higher in the first year after starting ponatinib than in later years, the cumulative incidence of events continues to increase. The 5-year follow-up to the PACE trial reports 31% of patients experiencing any grade of arterial occlusive event while on ponatinib. Aside from these events, the most common treatment-emergent adverse events in ponatinib-treated patients on the PACE trial included rash (47%), abdominal pain (46%), headache (43%), dry skin (42%), constipation (41%), and hypertension (37%). Hematologic toxicity was also common, with 46% of patients experiencing any grade of thrombocytopenia, 20% experiencing neutropenia, and 20% anemia.19

Patients receiving ponatinib therapy should be monitored closely for any evidence of arterial or venous thrombosis. In the event of an occlusive event, ponatinib should be discontinued. Similarly, in the setting of any new or worsening heart failure symptoms, ponatinib should be promptly discontinued. Management of any underlying cardiovascular risk factors including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, or smoking history is recommended, and these patients should be referred to a cardiologist for a full evaluation. In the absence of any contraindications to aspirin, low-dose aspirin should be considered as a means of decreasing cardiovascular risks associated with ponatinib. In patients with known risk factors, a ponatinib starting dose of 30 mg daily rather than the standard 45 mg daily may be a safer option resulting in fewer arterial occlusive events, although the efficacy of this dose is still being studied in comparison to 45 mg daily.7

In the event of ponatinib-induced transaminitis greater than 3 times the upper limit of normal, ponatinib should be held until resolution to less than 3 times the upper limit of normal, at which point it should be resumed at a lower dose. Similarly, in the setting of elevated serum lipase or symptomatic pancreatitis, ponatinib should be held and restarted at a lower dose after resolution of symptoms.7

In the event of neutropenia or thrombocytopenia, ponatinib should be held until blood count recovery and then restarted at the same dose. If cytopenias occur for a second time, the dose of ponatinib should be lowered at the time of treatment reinitiation. If rash occurs, it can be addressed with topical or systemic steroids as well as dose reduction, interruption, or discontinuation.7

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