Fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, and rituximab treatment achieves long-term disease-free survival in IGHV-mutated chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Philip A. Thompson, Constantine S. Tam, Susan M. O’Brien, William G. Wierda, Francesco Stingo, William Plunkett, Susan C. Smith, Hagop M. Kantarjian, Emil J. Freireich and Michael J. Keating

Key Points

  • FCR-treated chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients with mutated IGHV gene achieve long-term PFS, with a plateau on the PFS curve.

  • MRD-negativity posttreatment is highly predictive of long-term PFS, particularly in patients with mutated IGHV gene.

Publisher's Note: There is an Inside Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.


Accurate identification of patients likely to achieve long-progression-free survival (PFS) after chemoimmunotherapy is essential given the availability of less toxic alternatives, such as ibrutinib. Fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, and rituximab (FCR) achieved a high response rate, but continued relapses were seen in initial reports. We reviewed the original 300 patient phase 2 FCR study to identify long-term disease-free survivors. Minimal residual disease (MRD) was assessed posttreatment by a polymerase chain reaction-based ligase chain reaction assay (sensitivity 0.01%). At the median follow-up of 12.8 years, PFS was 30.9% (median PFS, 6.4 years). The 12.8-year PFS was 53.9% for patients with mutated immunoglobulin heavy chain variable (IGHV) gene (IGHV-M) and 8.7% for patients with unmutated IGHV (IGHV-UM). 50.7% of patients with IGHV-M achieved MRD-negativity posttreatment; of these, PFS was 79.8% at 12.8 years. A plateau was seen on the PFS curve in patients with IGHV-M, with no relapses beyond 10.4 years in 42 patients (total follow-up 105.4 patient-years). On multivariable analysis, IGHV-UM (hazard ratio, 3.37 [2.18-5.21]; P < .001) and del(17p) by conventional karyotyping (hazard ratio, 7.96 [1.02-61.92]; P = .048) were significantly associated with inferior PFS. Fifteen patients with IGHV-M had 4-color MRD flow cytometry (sensitivity 0.01%) performed in peripheral blood, at a median of 12.8 years posttreatment (range, 9.5-14.7). All were MRD-negative. The high rate of very long-term PFS in patients with IGHV-M after FCR argues for the continued use of chemoimmunotherapy in this patient subgroup outside clinical trials; alternative strategies may be preferred in patients with IGHV-UM, to limit long-term toxicity.

  • Submitted September 16, 2015.
  • Accepted October 10, 2015.
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