Worldwide Cancer Research Menu

Third-generation cancer drug is approved for lymphoma patients

Without your support, none of this research would be possible. If you like what you read here, and would like to help us continue funding pioneering cancer research, you can donate to Worldwide Cancer Research by calling 0300 777 7910 or you can donate online here.

Last month, the decision-making body that rules on the treatments available on the NHS in England announced that patients with a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma should be given access to a drug called obinutuzumab. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) now recommends obinutuzumab as a first-line treatment for patients with follicular lymphoma.

This decision will come as welcome news to many patients with this type of blood cancer. Follicular lymphomas make up around 20% of all cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the approval of obinutuzumab by NICE could impact around 1,200 people each year in the UK.

Follicular lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects a specific cell of the immune system called a B-cell. These B-cells are a type of white blood cell that pump out special molecules called antibodies that help fight off infection by foreign invaders such as bacteria. B-cells that have become cancerous grow and divide uncontrollably, and can cause tumours to form in certain areas of the body – usually in a region called the lymph nodes. Follicular lymphoma is a slow growing blood cancer, and although difficult to cure, it can be kept under control for many years with the right treatment.

One key feature of this type of cancer is that the B-cells can be picked out from the crowd because of a particular molecule that coats the outside of the cell. This molecule is called CD20 and is used to help diagnose and treat certain types of blood cancer. Drugs that are designed to home in on CD20 can stick to the molecule on the cell’s surface, disrupt the cell’s ability to divide and grow, and ultimately kill the cell. In the late 1990s the first drug (called rituximab) that targeted CD20 was successfully brought to market to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients who had become resistant to all other chemotherapy regimens. As research progressed, better and better drugs were developed that targeted CD20, including obinutuzumab.

Research funded by us, thanks to the generosity of our supporters back in 2004, played a key role in helping to push forward the development of the so-called “third generation” drugs targeting CD20, such as obinutuzumab. These generous donations helped to fund Professor Mark Cragg at the University of Southampton to study how exactly drugs that target CD20 result in the cell being killed. Through this work, Professor Cragg, and others, were able to show that “second generation” drugs were five times more powerful than the first generation drugs such as rituximab. This finding spurred on the later development of third generation drugs like obinutuzumab, which improved further on the design of the second generation drugs.

When we asked Professer Cragg about the importance of the research we helped him complete, he said:“Funding the early-stage research is the critical part, without which nothing else would happen”.

It’s fantastic to see innovative new cancer drugs being recommended for use for more and more patients. Here at Worldwide Cancer Research, we are so proud of all our supporters who have made advances such as this possible. As Professor Cragg says – if we don’t support the early-stage research, the vital knowledge wouldn’t be gained that is needed to drive forward these incredible discoveries.

Read the research article mentioned above here:

DOI: 10.1182/blood-2008-04-149161


Science Communications Manager

Comments are closed.