Follicular lymphoma patients have different treatment options, but what should patients know about them? Expert Dr. Sameh Gaballa shares an overview of available treatment options and research results of treatment versus watch and wait.
Dr. Sameh Gaballa is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in treating lymphoid malignancies from Moffitt Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Gaballa.
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So, can you speak to the novel pathways and targets that are currently under investigation in follicular lymphoma? And what are the most important highlights to point out to patients and families?
Dr. Sameh Gaballa:
Yeah, absolutely. So you have to remember, number one, not all patients with follicular lymphoma have to be treated. A fair number of patients can be safely observed initially, because the…so when I was talking about the types of lymphoma, so the aggressive lymphomas, those ones are treatable, but curable, meaning you treat it, goes away, good chance that it goes away and does not come back.
Whereas follicular lymphoma, those are slow-growing lymphomas. They may or may not cause problems. The treatment though, they’re very treatable. There are a lot of treatments available, but the thing is they’re not curable, meaning that they go into remission, they could stay in remission for years, but then eventually they would come back again. So you have to remember that because of that, large trials were done previously where patients who had no symptoms and not a lot of disease, they were randomized, half would get treated.
The other half were on a watch and wait. And the patients who, survival is exactly the same in both groups, there was not really any advantage to early treatment versus treatment as if there’s a reason in the future. And we typically have some indications where we decide, okay, well, it’s time to treat. And those basically have to do if the lymph nodes are big enough or they’re close to an important structure and we don’t want them to grow more and maybe press on an important structure, or if they’re causing some kind of symptom or they’re causing anemia or low platelets. I mean, there has to be one, because there has to be one reason for why you’re trying to treat that patient, because you’re basically trying to fix a problem.
So if there’s no problem initially, it doesn’t make sense to treat it. Now, there are lots of available treatments, it could be only immune therapy, something like rituximab (Rituxan) or obinutuzumab (Gazyva); these are antibody treatments. There are also combinations with chemotherapies, like bendamustine (Treanda), rituximab for if we have relatively bulky disease. There are options as well that do not involve chemotherapy.
So something like pills like lenalidomide (Revlimid) combined with rituximab, those are also options that can be used in follicular lymphoma. But over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes in follicular lymphoma and a lot of novel targets and a lot of novel treatments available. So, for example, a few years ago now, we’ve had CAR T-cell therapy approved. Right now, we have two products approved, axi-cel and tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah). There’s also data that was presented with liso-cel in follicular lymphoma. So hopefully we might see an approval for that as well. So that’s one class.
There’s also bispecific antibodies, and it’s very exciting times. We had the first bispecific antibody approved in the United States in December of 2022. That’s mosunetuzumab-axgb (Lunsumio). So what is a BiTE antibody? These basically are advanced types of immune therapies where you give the patient an antibody that has two ends to it, one end sticks to the cancer cell, the other end sticks to your immune cells. So it’s basically handholding your own immune cells or your own T cells to go and get attached to the cancer cell and kill it, not chemotherapy. It, of course, can have some immunological side effects like fevers or inflammation initially when it’s done, typically when in the first cycle or second cycle.
But something called cytokine release syndrome rarely can cause neurological toxicity. That’s also very transient usually, and very rare with bispecific antibodies. But those are two up and coming treatments. Right now, they’re approved in patients who’ve had relapsed/refractory disease, meaning they’ve had two or more lines of previous therapies, but they’re…we have them now in trials where we’re looking at those agents in earlier lines of therapy. There are other agents as well.
A few years ago, we had tazemetostat (Tazverik) approved, which is a pill that targets an enzyme in the cells called EZH2 and they basically, this pill tries to ask the cancer cell to differentiate, rather than get stuck and not die. So they differentiate and then they eventually die, so that’s another class of medicine. And we’ve now seen some data with BTK inhibitors. There’s been data presented from the ROSEWOOD Study with zanubrutinib plus obinutuzumab (Brukinsa plus Gazyva); it’s not yet FDA-approved, but the data looks interesting and certainly needs to be looked at further.