Ahead of the eagerly-awaited American Society of Clinical Oncology event being held next month in Chicago, a pre-meeting briefing included studies showing that maintenance therapy with Roche/Biogen Idec’s Rituxan halves risk of lymphoma recurrence, while Celgene’s Revlimid slows myeloma progression.

First up and a Phase III trial found that two years of Rituxan (rituximab) maintenance therapy halved risk of follicular lymphoma recurrence in patients who responded to initial chemotherapy. "These findings provide hope for the way we manage this disease. Rituximab maintenance therapy is likely to become a new standard of care for these patients," said lead author Gilles Salles of the University of Lyon.

He noted that most patients with this type of lymphoma are at risk of relapse within three to six years of their initial therapy. In this study, patients with primarily stage III or IV follicular lymphoma whose disease was reduced or eliminated by rituximab-based combination chemotherapy (induction therapy) were randomly assigned to receive two additional years of rituximab as maintenance therapy or no maintenance therapy (observation group).

After a median follow-up time of 25 months, disease progression occurred in 18% of the Rituxan group compared with 34% of the observation group. The benefits of rituximab maintenance were observed regardless of patients' stage of remission, age, or prior treatment regimen and the researchers noted that longer follow-up of the patients is needed to confirm the benefits observed.

Based on these data, Roche and Biogen has applied for approval in the USA and Europe for an expanded indication for the blockbuster, which is marketed for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia as well as rheumatoid arthritis,

Meantime, results from an interim analysis of a Phase III trial show that maintenance therapy with Revlimid (lenalidomide) slowed disease progression by 54% among patients with multiple myeloma who had prior high-dose chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant.

"These results are very promising. If confirmed in the final analysis, they suggest that maintenance therapy with lenalidomide can improve quality of life in patients with myeloma by delaying the need for more intensive therapy to treat a relapse," said Michel Attal, Purpan Hospital, Toulouse and study lead author.

Lenalidomide maintenance therapy improved three-year progression-free survival: 68% of patients in the Revlimid group did not experience disease progression, compared with 35% of the placebo group. Two-year overall survival was similar in both groups (95%).