For patients (pts) with relapsed or refractory follicular lymphoma (r/r FL) beyond front-line therapy, there is no well-defined standard of care (SOC) treatment, especially in the third-line or later (3L+) setting. Treatment decisions for symptomatic patients depend on comorbidities, extent of disease, lines of prior therapy and duration of response to initial anti-CD20 containing treatment. Treatment options for 3L+ may include similar options to the ones in earlier lines, with a preference for non-cross-resistant schemes. Recently, a plethora of new compounds are being studied in clinical trials. A systematic literature review (SLR) was conducted to identify relevant evidence on clinical outcomes in pts with r/r FL, including conventional treatments and emerging compounds, within the 3L+ setting.


We performed a SLR on March 17, 2020. Clinical trials and observational studies were searched through Embase, PubMed, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Clinical Trials from 1998 to 2020, followed by relevant conference proceedings and regulatory documents. Evidence assessing any intervention as 3L+ FL and published in English language was included. If a study included broader indolent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (iNHL) pts, only FL data was reported; if a study included pts with fewer than 3L+, 3L+ data was included, with mixed line results excluded.

Conventional treatments, defined as approved or clinical guideline recommended treatments, included anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody (mAb)-containing regimen, mAb alone, chemotherapy alone, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) inhibitors (idelalisib, copanlisib, duvelisib), lenalidomide + rituximab (R2), radio-immunotherapy (RIT) with yttrium-90 (90Y) ibritumomab tiuxetan, tazemetostat, autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplantation (auto- and allo-SCT). Emerging compounds included new treatments that are not approved but were tested in the context of clinical trials (bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitors, bortezomib, polatuzumab vedotin, daratumumab, inotuzumab, bi-specific T-cell engaging CD19 mAb, anti-CD19 chimeric antigen receptor T-cell [CAR-T] therapy).


Of the 3747 publications identified, 74 studies assessing 26 treatment regimens, including conventional ones like rituximab (R)-containing immunochemotherapy to emerging compounds such as CAR-T therapies, were selected. Across the conventional regimens, 7 studies reported clinical trial data with relatively large 3L+ FL populations (Table 1).

With R monotherapy, PI3K inhibitors and tazemetostat, the reported complete response (CR) rates and overall response rates (ORR) ranged from 1-20% and 34-77%, while median duration of response (mDOR) ranged between 7.9-16.3 months. Three clinical trials with PI3K inhibitors reported proportions of pts achieving a response of at least 6 months in duration ranging from 18-30%; median progression-free survival (mPFS) ranging from 8.3-11.2 months. For tazemetostat, mPFS was 11.0 months in EZH2 mutant vs 5.7 months in wild-type FL. With allo-SCT, 2-yr PFS rate was 88% and 57% for pts with CR and PR, respectively.

Overall survival (OS) data varied: median overall survival (mOS) was 28-38 months for PI3K inhibitors while mOS was up to 85 months after allo-SCT, despite high non-relapse mortality (NRM) rates with most common causes of death being graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and infections. Safety profiles were also different across treatments, with most common side effects being hepatotoxicity, diarrhea and infections (PI3K inhibitors) to GvHD (allo-SCT).

Three trials presented patient-reported outcomes (PRO) data, all using the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy (FACT) questionnaire. Two studies with PI3K inhibitors demonstrated favorable or clinically significant improvement on pts quality of life (QoL), but 1 allo-SCT trial did not show a significant difference between baseline and 2 years post-transplant scores.


To our knowledge, this is the first SLR focusing on 3L+ treatments of FL. Heterogeneity in study design, patient population, safety profile and reported outcomes make it challenging to identify an optimal treatment regimen for FL in the 3L+ setting. More PRO data are needed considering the important role pt QoL plays in treatment selection.


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Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.