First new Hodgkin’s Lymphoma treatment approved by the FDA since 1977
It had been more than three decades since the last time the Food and Drug Administration approved a new treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. That changed in August of 2011 when Brentuximab vedotin, or SGN-35 as it is more commonly know, was approved.
For lymphoma patient Justin Dorn, the progress came just in time.
“I didn’t have a lot of options left for treatment,” said Dorn, 37 of Kearney, Neb.
Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2009, Dorn had already undergone a stem cell transplant at The Nebraska Medical Center. It’s a treatment that works for the vast majority of Hodgkin lymphoma patients. For Dorn, it did not.
The medical center was able to treat Dorn with SGN-35 in the spring as part of a clinical trial of the new drug.
“I don’t think I would have made it this far without the drug,” Dorn said.
“The types of patients who receive this basically have few other options,” said Julie Vose, MD, MBA, oncologist at The Nebraska Medical Center and chair of hematology/oncology at The University of Nebraska Medical Center. “So this gives them other options to look potentially to other treatments in the future.”
The treatment is a monoclonal antibody with chemotherapy attached to it. It works by delivering the chemotherapy directly to the cancer cells and bypasses the normal, healthy cells. The targeted “smart bullet” approach lessens the side effects of the chemotherapy. SGN-35 treatments are given intravenously once every three weeks.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a cure,” Dr. Vose said. “It’s a way to shrink the tumors and get the patient feeling better and lessen their symptoms.”
As one of the hospitals participating in the clinical trials for SGN-35, Nebraska Medical Center oncologists saw the promising results first hand: 73% of the patients had their tumors shrink or disappear.
“A response as high as 73% for a group of patients like that is nearly revolutionary,” said R. Gregory Bociek, MD, Justin Dorn’s oncologist at the medical center.
The idea of a “smart bullet” for cancer is being seen in other areas of cancer research and treatment.
“That’s really the theme right now,” Dr. Vose said. “We’re trying to attack just the tumor, not the normal tissue so we can reduce the side effects and have better anti-cancer effectiveness.”