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Patient receiving chemotherapy
Credit: Rhoda Baer

NEW YORK—Physicians should use chemotherapy-based approaches—not brentuximab vedotin—as second-line therapy for recurrent
Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) prior to transplant, according to a speaker at the Lymphoma & Myeloma 2014 congress.

Nina Wagner-Johnston, MD, of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, provided the meeting’s audience with a handful of arguments to support chemotherapy-based salvage regimens and a number of reasons why brentuximab is not ideal as salvage therapy in HL.

First, there is data supporting the use of chemotherapy-based salvage regimens in these patients, but the brentuximab data is lacking.

“Other issues include chemosensitivity, stem cell collection, unknown progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) risk with brentuximab pre-ASCT [autologous stem cell transplant], cost, and alternative roles for brentuximab to enhance cure upfront post-ASCT maintenance,” Dr Wagner-Johnston said.

She also noted that chemotherapy-based salvage regimens yield high response rates with adequate stem cell collections.

“The vast majority of patients proceed to ASCT, 86% with ICE chemotherapy [ifosfamide, carboplatin, and etoposide],” she said. “Many are cured with a chemotherapy-based approach, with a 5-year PFS [progression-free survival] of 50% to 60%, with a low incidence of febrile neutropenia.”

Dr Wagner-Johnston also raised the possibility that giving patients brentuximab prior to ASCT might increase the risk of PML. The risk is already increased with lymphoma and ASCT. And in cases of PML in which patients are treated with brentuximab, the onset is rapid, with a median of about 2 months after initiation.

Furthermore, the cost of therapy clearly favors chemotherapy over brentuximab, she said. Three cycles of brentuximab at 1.8 mg/kg cost more than $58,000, and 2 cycles of brentuximab (3 weeks on, 1 week off) at 1.2 mg/kg cost more than $78,000.

In comparison, 3 cycles of ICE cost less than $38,000 and 3 cycles of ESHAP (etoposide, methylprednisolone, high-dose cytarabine, and cisplatin) cost $17,000. These costs do not account for the increased risk of febrile neutropenia.

Dr Wagner-Johnston expressed other concerns about brentuximab as well.

“Brentuximab is probably not effective to pursue as a single agent,” she said. “The addition of brentuximab to chemotherapy increases toxicity and cost. Continuous progressions years after ASCT call into question a 2-year benchmark and further highlight the importance of a maintenance approach.”

There are several unanswered pivotal questions about brentuximab, Dr Wagner-Johnston continued.

“Is brentuximab sensitivity equivalent to chemosensitivity?” she asked. “Does improved CR [complete response] rate with brentuximab-based treatment equate to better outcomes? Is the likelihood of cure higher with brentuximab-based approaches?”

She said brentuximab may be best in the upfront setting. There are more upfront cures in the highest-risk group with this novel agent, and it may allow a greater number of patients to avoid the toxicity of ASCT.

Brentuximab has demonstrated safety in phase 1/2 studies, Dr Wagner-Johnston said, adding “we await data from an ongoing phase 3 trial to determine a PFS benefit with brentuximab.”

Furthermore, post-ASCT maintenance with brentuximab may be a better alternative than salvage brentuximab pre-ASCT. In the relapsed setting, the median duration of response for brentuximab is short (6.7 months in a phase 2 study) after a median of 9 cycles.

In the phase 3 placebo-controlled trial of maintenance brentuximab following ASCT, “an interim analysis based on safety and utility recommends continuation,” Dr Wagner-Johnston said.

In conclusion, she said, “Before letting brentuximab take over, we need to confirm its safety, efficacy, and determine the best positioning of brentuximab to enhance outcomes. In the meantime, stick with what we know works.”

For the dissenting opinion on salvage in HL, see “Brentuximab tops chemo in HL, doc says.” ht-logo-end

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