Six courses of FCR is considered standard therapy for fit, non-(17p) deleted patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), however the optimal dose of Rituximab in combined chemotherapy for CLL or the number of FCR courses required has never been formally assessed. Minimal residual disease (MRD) eradication (assessed by 6 colour flow-cytometry(FC) is associated with an increased disease free interval and is a logical endpoint in determining length/efficacy of treatment. Serial MRD testing following therapy provides an objective test of disease re-emergence.
A multi-centre prospective phase II study in treatment-naïve CLL patients with modified FCR (Rituximab 375mg/m2) using MRD to determine treatment length/efficacy and identify disease emergence recruited from 2009–2012. Standard pre-treatment assessment plus C-T scan, FISH and Ig somatic hypermutation (SHM) analyses were performed. Patient in radiological and MRD-ve remission after 4 courses of FCR stopped therapy and the remainder received 6 courses. All were followed by 6 monthly MRD assessment.
Fifty-two patients were included (35M/17F), mean age 52 years (range 37–72), mean WCC 51 × 109/L (range 8–386), elevated LDH 23 of 45 (51%), lymphadenopathy 43 (83%) and hepatosplenomegaly in 37 (71%). Abnormal FISH results were, del(11q) in 15, +12 in 5, del(13q) in 18; SHM 15(29%) mutated and 37(71%) unmutated or with V3–21 gene usage. Post-treatment MRD is available in 43 patients; 36 (70%) were MRD –ve including 18 (42%) after 4 courses. Nine patients did not complete treatment (toxicity −7, progression-1, non-compliance-1). With a mean follow-up of 20.7 months (range 4.5–38), 6 patients have reverted to MRD +ve at a mean of 13 months (range 10–19) from therapy; only the patient with primary treatment failure has required further chemotherapy. Myelotoxoicty resulted in 23 NCI grade 3 episodes and 7 treatment delays of a mean duration of 25 days (range15–32). One further grade 3 toxicity of pneumonia was identified.
Modified FCR was effective in this patient cohort with high risk features (38% unfavourable FISH, 71% unfavourable SHM), with 70% patients achieving MRD-ve status on completion of therapy. 42% of patients became MRD-ve after 4 courses of FCR, suggesting that some patients may not require 6 courses of therapy. Myelotoxicity remains an issue with 7 patients not completing therapy. Longer follow-up will clarify whether shortened therapy will have an impact on MRD+ve reversion, time to re-treatment and survival.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.