Leukemia cells
Representational picture Wikimedia commons

A group of researchers from Loyola University Chicago claimed that a drug approved by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016 for treating elderly patients with cancer of the blood and bone marrow, is more effective than the standard therapy.

The small molecule drug, called ibrutinib, attacks on the cancer cells but it doesn't affect the normal cells and causes fewer side effects for patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), which is a disease of the immune system and common for leukaemia patients.

CLL may not cause any symptoms for years and most of the patients fail to find symptoms in early stages. But, this disease affects mostly older adults, with the average age of diagnosis around 70.

However, the FDA approved drug can be taken as a pill and for patients, this process is much convenient than the usual treatment, which includes infusions and taking injections, three times a month.

Scott Smith, Professor and an oncologist at Loyola's Stritch School of Medicine said that "Ibrutinib should become the new standard of care."

In terms of the standard treatment, patients receive chemotherapy drug (bendamustine), which kills cancer cells and an immunotherapy drug (rituximab) that suppresses the immune system. But, it should be noted that chemotherapy causes some common side effects for every patient and it includes fatigue, hair loss, anaemia, nausea, vomiting, change in appetite and more.

For this study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists included 547 CLL patients, all were older than 65. Later the researchers found that there was no sign of progression of the disease when it comes to the 87 percent of the patients, who received the only ibrutinib for two years, compared to 74 per cent of patients, received bendamustine plus rituximab.

The scientists also noticed that there is no such difference between the patients having ibrutinib alone and those receiving ibrutinib plus rituximab.

As per Smith, almost 17 percent patients, who received the only ibrutinib, have experienced irregular heartbeat issue, called 'atrial fibrillation,' but overall, the side effects caused by this drug is lesser than the standard treatment.

In addition, Sam said that further studies about ibrutinib are going on that includes CLL patients, who are younger than age 65.