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Keywords:

  • chronic lymphocytic leukaemia;
  • CLL;
  • treatment;
  • rituximab;
  • monoclonal antibodies

Abstract:Objectives: This prospective multicentre study was conducted to assess the efficacy of the monoclonal anti-CD20 antibody rituximab in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). Secondary objectives were defined as the tolerability and feasibility of rituximab in patients with CLL. Methods: Twenty-four heavily pretreated patients with CLL were treated with a standard dose of 375 mg m−2 of rituximab given once weekly for four doses. Results: The overall response rate was 35% and all the responses were partial as defined by the revised NCI criteria. In 17 (85%) of 20 patients with initially measurable peripheral lymph nodes the size of lymph nodes decreased by at least 50%, while an improvement of the bone marrow infiltration was observed only in two (11%) of 18 evaluable patients. The median duration of the overall response was 12.5 wk. Rituximab was relatively well tolerated. Although side-effects were common (75%) they were usually mild or moderate. There was only one grade 3 adverse event and no grade 4 events. Conclusions: Standard-dose rituximab has activity in heavily pretreated patients with CLL, although the response is mainly limited to the lymph nodes and of short duration. Since rituximab has in vitro synergism with chemotherapeutic agents and is well tolerated by CLL patients, it is reasonable to investigate rituximab in combination with other treatments.