The efficacy of three therapeutic programs for acute leukemia were compared. These programs included (1) Methotrexate (Phase I) followed by 6-mercaptopurine (Phase II); (2) 6-mercaptopurine (Phase I) followed by Methotrexate (Phase II); and (3) Combination Therapy, i.e., 6-mercaptopurine given in combination with Methotrexate.
In children with acute lymphocytic leukemia the remission rate was 59 per cent for combination therapy, 47 per cent for 6-mercaptopurine, and 29 per cent for Methotrexate. The better remission rate for combination therapy is consistent with that predicted if it is assumed that 6-mercaptopurine and Methotrexate act independently. The median duration of complete remissions for the three treatments was not different (4 to 5 months). However, long lasting remissions were more frequent in patients receiving combination therapy. The median survival from the onset of therapy to death was 9 months. There were no differences between the three treatment programs as regards survival.
In adults the remission rate was 15 per cent for combination therapy, 21 per cent for 6-mercaptopurine and 7 per cent for Methotrexate. As regards survival in adults, early deaths were more common in patients who received MTX as initial therapy, whereas after 5 months survival was somewhat better in those patients receiving combination therapy.
In both children and adults there was no evidence that prior treatment with one of the antimetabolites altered response to the other antimetabolite. This result differs from those in animal models, and its effect on our concept of the mechanism of resistance is discussed.
Responsiveness to the second course of antimetabolite therapy (Phase II) was as good as that to the first course of treatment. This was true for the remission rate, remission duration, and even for survival when appropriate corrections were made. Thus, responsiveness to drug therapy is maintained as the disease progresses temporally. It may be concluded therefore that new agents can be effectively studied in patients with "late" disease.
Responsiveness to Phase II therapy was independent of responsiveness to Phase I.
The most common and severe toxic manifestations related to the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract. There were no major differences quantitatively in the toxicity for the three treatment programs in children in spite of the fact that the drugs were given in full dosage in the combination program. Oral ulcers and a generalized erythematous rash occurred significantly more frequently in patients receiving Methotrexate. Jaundice was significantly more frequent in adults and in patients receiving 6-MP.