Conference Coverage

ASCT or novel therapies in early relapsing follicular lymphoma?



– For patients with newly diagnosed follicular lymphoma and other indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the combination of bendamustine (Treanda) and rituximab is associated with significantly better progression-free survival (PFS) and longer time-to-next treatment than is rituximab plus CHOP chemotherapy, results of the BRIGHT study indicate.

But when a patient with follicular lymphoma experiences early disease progression on bendamustine, what should the next treatment be? Autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT)? Novel therapies? That was the question taken on in a debate at an international congress on hematologic malignancies by Carla Casulo, MD of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester (N.Y.), and Brian K. Link, MD, of the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City.

Dr. Casulo: ASCT

“Follicular lymphoma with a short remission duration has been established as a poor prognostic marker for survival, and the optimal therapy for these patients is really not known,” Dr. Casulo said.

“Of course, [novel] therapies can be considered, I think, for the appropriate patient, and hopefully in the context of a clinical study,” she added.

Dr. Carla Casulo of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester (N.Y.)
Dr. Carla Casulo

To lay out her argument for ASCT, Dr. Casulo pointed to four studies suggesting that about 20% of patients with follicular lymphoma will experience disease progression within 24 months of chemoimmunotherapy. Similar patterns of progression at 24 months were seen with R-CHOP in the SWOG S0016 trial, with both bendamustine-rituximab and R-CHOP in the StiL Study, with lenalidomide (Revlimid) and rituximab in a phase 3 clinical trial, and with one of three rituximab-based immunochemotherapy regimens in the PRIMA trial.

The results from these trials suggest that “there is an inherent biology to this population that relapses early, regardless of what induction strategy is used. However, what’s not known, until now, is whether early relapse implies poor survival in this disease,” she said.

To examine this question Dr. Casulo and her colleagues performed an analysis of time to progression among patients with newly-diagnosed follicular lymphoma treated with R-CHOP who were enrolled in the National LymphoCare Study (NLCS). “What we found was that there were very poor outcomes associated with early-relapsing follicular lymphoma,” she said.

Overall survival (OS) at 8 years was 50% for patients with disease progression within 24 months of therapy, compared with 90% for patients who did not have early progression, a finding that was validated in a cohort of patients from the University of Iowa and the Mayo Clinic in which 8-year OS for early progressors was 34%, compared with 90% for other patients. The results held up when the researchers controlled for Follicular Lymphoma International Prognostic Index scores and in patients treated with rituximab and the cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and prednisone regimen rather than CHOP, Dr. Casulo noted.

“So, given these findings, how does one navigate the treatment landscape for patients with early relapsing follicular lymphoma? The reality is that there is really no standard of care or best approach,” she said.

“Ultimately, the goal of therapy, at least in my opinion, should be overcoming the chemoresistance that’s inherent to this biology, and establishing durable disease control, and there are a couple of strategies that might be able to achieve that,” she added.

There have been only two clinical trials of ASCT in patients with relapsed follicular lymphoma.

In the CUP trial, initiated prior to the introduction of rituximab, 89 patients with relapsed follicular lymphoma were treated with three cycles of CHOP, and those with a response were then randomized to either purged or unpurged ASCT, or to three additional cycles of CHOP. Four-year OS in this study was 70% for patients who underwent ASCT vs. 50% for those who received six cycles of CHOP.

In the EBMT LYM1 trial, 280 rituximab-naive patients with relapsed follicular lymphoma after a partial or complete remission were randomized to rituximab-purged or unpurged ASCT, followed by randomization to observation or rituximab maintenance. In this trial, the 10-year OS with ASCT ranged from 68% to 73%.

A Spanish registry study presented in a poster session at the 14th International Conference on Malignant Lymphoma in Lugano, Italy, showed long-term efficacy of ASCT in relapsed follicular lymphoma, with plateaus in both PFS and OS about 9 years after transplant for both rituximab-exposed and rituximab-naive patients, “suggesting that perhaps a subset of patients with relapsed follicular lymphoma can be cured with this approach,” Dr. Casulo said.

Similarly, a trial from the German Low Grade Lymphoma Studies group, presented at the 2016 American Society of Hematology annual meeting, showed 5-year OS of 77% with ASCT vs. 46% for patients who did not receive a transplant.

Dr. Casulo and her colleagues collaborated with investigators at the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research and the NLCS to see whether ASCT can improve OS compared with no transplant in patients with early-relapsed follicular lymphoma. They found that patients who received ASCT within 1 year of therapy failure had a 5-year OS of 73%, compared with 60% for those who did not receive ASCT (P = .02).

She acknowledged that toxicities associated with ASCT are a concern, pointing to a 2007 study looking at long-term follow-up of myeloablative ASCT for follicular lymphoma at the time of second or subsequent remission. The investigators found that rates of myelodysplasia were as high as 20% at 10 years, especially among patients who had undergone total body irradiation, a practice that has since fallen out of favor.

A separate study led by Matt Kalaycio, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, showed that more lines of prior therapy (4-6 vs. 1-3) and radiation were both risk factors for subsequent myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia.

“I hope we have demonstrated that autologous transplant can have durable response in these patients, with possibly a cure in a subset; but, ultimately, I think strategies that combine novel agents and autologous transplant in a clinical trial are the way to go to improve outcomes,” she said.

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