The government approved a long-awaited treatment for lymphoma - a drug that uses a novel approach to bring radiation directly to cancer cells. Idec Pharmaceuticals' Zevalin becomes the first radioimmunotherapy drug cleared to sell in the US.
It's a new approach, adding radiation to antibodies that search out a protein called CD20 found on lymphoma cells. The antibodies attach to the cells, flagging them for attack by the immune system. Doctors have long hoped that the radioactive antibodies would prove a potent way of fighting tough-to-treat cancers like non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared Zevalin as a treatment for people who have not been helped by all other treatments for a recurrent form of non-Hodgkin's called low-grade, or follicular lymphoma. Studies found that about 75 percent of these especially hard-to-treat patients had their tumors shrink significantly after a single dose of Zevalin. In between 15% and 30% of the patients, the tumors seemed to disappear.