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Am J Hematol. 2014 Jul;89(7):757-65. doi: 10.1002/ajh.23737. Epub 2014 Apr 26.

Chemoimmunotherapy for relapsed/refractory and progressive 17p13-deleted chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) combining pentostatin, alemtuzumab, and low-dose rituximab is effective and tolerable and limits loss of CD20 expression by circulating CLL cells.

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Division of Hematology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL) patients with purine analog refractory disease or TP53 dysfunction still have limited treatment options and poor survival. Alemtuzumab-containing chemoimmunotherapy regimens can be effective but frequently cause serious infections. We report a Phase II trial testing the efficacy and tolerability of a short-duration regimen combining pentostatin, alemtuzumab, and low-dose high-frequency rituximab designed to decrease the risk of treatment-associated infections and to limit the loss of CD20 expression by CLL cells. The study enrolled 39 patients with progressive CLL that was either relapsed/refractory (n = 36) or previously untreated with 17p13 deletion (17p13-) (n = 3). Thirteen (33%) patients had both 17p13- and TP53 mutations predicted to be dysfunctional, and eight patients had purine analog refractory CLL without TP53 dysfunction. Twenty-six (67%) patients completed therapy, with only five (13%) patients having treatment-limiting toxicity and no treatment-related deaths. Twenty-two (56%) patients responded to treatment, with 11 (28%) complete responses (four with incomplete bone marrow recovery). Median progression-free survival was 7.2 months, time to next treatment was 9.1 months, and overall survival was 34.1 months. The majority of deaths (82%) were caused by progressive disease, including transformed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (n = 6). Correlative studies showed that low-dose rituximab activates complement and natural killer cells without a profound and sustained decrease in expression of CD20 by circulating CLL cells. We conclude that pentostatin, alemtuzumab, and low-dose high-frequency rituximab is a tolerable and effective therapy for CLL and that low-dose rituximab therapy can activate innate immune cytotoxic mechanisms without substantially decreasing CD20 expression.


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