updated 1/18/2011 7:12:26 PM ET 2011-01-19T00:12:26

A drug that combines a cell-killing agent with an antibody may result in remission for some patients with Hodgkin's disease and other blood cancers, according to a new clinical trial.

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New treatment options for Hodgkin's disease have been nonexistent for the last 30 years, said study author Anas Younes, a professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Of the patients given the new treatment, called brentuximab vedotin, the researchers found 25 percent of patients went into complete remission, while 43 percent of patients' cancer had stabilized.

"Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies invested their efforts in common cancers that have a low cure rate," Younes said.  "Hodgkin lymphoma is not only an uncommon cancer, but also highly curable, so it was neglected by [pharmaceutical companies] for a long time."

The three-year trial began in 2006 with 45 patients, ages 20 to 87, diagnosed with various types of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system), including 42 who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.

In addition, Younes and his team conducted computed tomography (CT) scans and found 86 percent of the patients saw their tumors shrink. Meanwhile, 81 percent experienced relief of tumor-related symptoms.

How the new drug works

Brentuximab vedotin contains an antibody called anti-CD30 and another agent which binds proteins responsible for cell division (uncontrollable cell division leads to cancer progression).

The antibody targets the drug to stick to the surface of Hodgkin cells and cells associated with other lymphomas, but not to other cells in the body, making medications that target this receptor ideal in treating these diseases, the researchers said.

What this means for patients

The researchers said drugs such as this one may reduce the necessity for traditional treatment options — including bone marrow transplants — for certain patients.

"If incorporating this novel drug with front line regimens improves their cure rate, we will have fewer patients that will need [transplants]," Younes told MyHealthNewsDaily.

This year, 8,490 people will be diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and 1,320 people will die from the disease, according to estimates from the National Cancer Institute.

The trial was funded by Seattle Genetics, the company that makes the medication. Researchers will present results from a second clinical trial in December.

The findings are published today (Nov. 4) in The New England Journal of Medicine.


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