April 12, 2016 – The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved Venetoclax (Venclexta) for the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) who have a chromosomal abnormality called 17p deletion and who have been treated with a least one prior therapy. Venetoclax (Venclexta) is the first FDA-approved treatment that targets the B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL-2) protein, which supports cancer cell growth and is overexpressed in many patients with CLL.
Bcl-2, encoded in humans by the BCL2 gene, is the founding member of the Bcl-2 family of regulator proteins that regulate cell death (i.e., apoptosis) by either inducing (pro-apoptotic) or inhibiting (anti-apoptotic) apoptosis. Bcl-2 is specifically considered an important anti-apoptotic protein and is thus classified as an oncogene. Bcl-2 derives its name from B-cell lymphoma 2, as it is the second member of a range of proteins initially described in chromosomal translocations involving chromosomes 14 and 18 in follicular lymphomas. Orthologs (such as Bcl2 in mice) have been identified in numerous mammals for which complete genome data are available. Like BCL3, BCL5, BCL6, BCL7A, BCL9, and BCL10, it has clinical significance in lymphoma.
According to the National Cancer Institute, CLL is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults, with approximately 15,000 new cases diagnosed each year. CLL is characterized by the progressive accumulation of abnormal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Patients with CLL who have a 17p deletion lack a portion of the chromosome that acts to suppress cancer growth. This chromosomal abnormality occurs in approximately 10 percent of patients with untreated CLL and in approximately 20 percent of patients with relapsed CLL.
The efficacy of Venetoclax (Venclexta) was tested in a single-arm clinical trial of 106 patients with CLL who have a 17p deletion and who had received at least one prior therapy. Trial participants took Venetoclax (Venclexta) orally every day, beginning with 20 mg and increasing over a five-week period to 400 mg. Results showed that 80 percent of trial participants experienced a complete or partial remission of their cancer.
The most common side effects of Venetoclax (Venclexta) include low white blood cell count (neutropenia), diarrhea, nausea, anemia, upper respiratory tract infection, low platelet count (thrombocytopenia) and fatigue. Serious complications can include pneumonia, neutropenia with fever, fever, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, anemia and metabolic abnormalities known as tumor lysis syndrome. Live attenuated vaccines should not be given to patients taking Venetoclax (Venclexta).
In line with its designation as a targeted therapy, Venetoclax (Venclexta) is indicated for daily use after detection of 17p deletion is confirmed through the use of the FDA-approved companion diagnostic Vysis CLL FISH probe kit.