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Researchers Find New Hope for Treatment of Chronic Leukemia

New Drug, in Early Clinical Testing, Offers Some Clues

August 17, 2011

While testing a new drug designed to treat chronic leukemia, researchers at Cleveland Clinic discovered new markers that could identify which patients would receive maximum benefit from the treatment.

This information was released in the online edition of Blood, a weekly medical journal published by the American Society of Hematology.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a cancer of the white blood cells that is incurable with standard treatment, is the most common type of leukemia in the Western Hemisphere. Conventional chemotherapy is effective at controlling CLL for many years, but the disease always relapses. CLL is characterized by an uncontrolled cell growth and division due to a defect in a process called programmed cell death, or apoptosis. A group of proteins called the Bcl-2 family is responsible for this defect. 

Alex Almasan, PhD, a researcher in the Lerner Research Institute (LRI) of Cleveland Clinic – in close collaboration with other researchers in both LRI and the Taussig Cancer Institute of Cleveland Clinic – collected blood samples from patients with CLL and tested the ability of a new drug to kill the cancerous cells. The drug, Navitoclax, is already in early stage clinical testing for patients with CLL. Navitoclax appears to be effective for some patients, and until this research study, there had been no clear way to predict who will respond to its effects.

In addition, these studies can be informative to the currently ongoing clinical trials with Navitoclax in other hematologic malignancies or solid tumors.

“Follow-up studies on patients that have been treated with Navitoclax, particularly those that are poor responders, could determine whether the Bcl-2 family genes examined in this study may also be important for development of resistance to this agent,” said Almasan.

About Cleveland Clinic

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. It was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S.News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. About 2,800 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 11,000 nurses represent 120 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic Health System includes a main campus near downtown Cleveland, nine community hospitals and 15 Family Health Centers in Northeast Ohio, Cleveland Clinic Florida, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic Canada, and opening in 2013, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. In 2010, there were 4 million visits throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system and 155,000 hospital admissions. Patients came for treatment from every state and from more than 100 countries. Visit us at www.clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at www.twitter.com/ClevelandClinic.

Cleveland Clinic News Service is available to provide video interviews and B-roll.

Media Contact

Dan Doron, 216.312.0428, dorond@ccf.org