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J Clin Oncol. 1991 Jan;9(1):175-88.

Fludarabine phosphate: a synthetic purine antimetabolite with significant activity against lymphoid malignancies.

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  • 1Division of Cancer Treatment, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD.


Fludarabine phosphate is the 2-fluoro, 5'-monophosphate derivative of vidarabine (ara-A) with the advantages of resistance to deamination by adenosine deaminase (ADA) and improved solubility. The mechanism of cytotoxic action of the compound appears to involve metabolic conversion to the active triphosphate. Fludarabine phosphate has substantial activity against lymphoid malignancies, particularly chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and low-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Its single-agent activity in CLL appears at least comparable to those of other conventional combination regimens. Its activity in Hodgkin's disease, mycosis fungoides, and macroglobulinemia, although suggestive, needs to be further defined and clinical trials are warranted in hairy cell leukemia, prolymphocytic leukemia, and previously untreated myeloma. The compound does not appear active against most common solid tumors. Early clinical trials indicated significant myelosuppression and the potential for severe neurotoxicity. Toxicity on the currently used low-dose schedules includes transient and reversible myelosuppression, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, somnolence/fatigue, and elevations of liver enzymes and/or serum creatinine. Possible pulmonary toxicity has been suggested in several patients. The currently used low-doses of fludarabine phosphate, even with repeated administration, are well tolerated and appear safe with a negligible risk for severe neurotoxicity. Based on its single-agent activity and tolerability, the Food and Drug Administration recently granted group C designation of the drug for the treatment of patients with refractory CLL outside the clinical trials setting. The use of fludarabine phosphate in combination regimens and its impact on the natural history of the lymphoid malignancies is yet to be determined. Fludarabine phosphate may well occupy a pivotal role in the management of CLL and low-grade NHL.

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