Researchers have established a new standard treatment with an improved cure rate in children with advanced B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, mainly Burkitt lymphoma, through a phase III international pediatric study. The study results were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine supporting the value of adding immune therapy, i.e. rituximab, to standard chemotherapy. The study demonstrates that this combination should be considered the standard of care for children with advanced-stage B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Thomas G. Gross, MD, a pediatric hematologist oncologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, led the study with Drs. Véronique Minard-Colin and Catherin Patte, both pediatric oncologists at the Gustave Roussy Department of Child and Adolescent Oncology in Paris, France. “Conducting a clinical trial that included over 600 hospitals in 13 countries was challenging,” said Dr. Gross. “But thanks to very committed study sponsors, study team members, participating investigators, national regulatory agencies, and of course the parents and children who participated in this research study, we were able to demonstrate that 95% of patients can be cured in one of the fastest-growing cancers in humans — even patients with the most advanced disease.”
B-Cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of the most common lymphomas in children
Aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (also known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) is a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system that protects us against infection and disease. The cancer can grow very fast and double in size in just 1-2 days.
B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma affects both children and adults. It is one of the most common types of lymphoma in children. It accounts for more than 60% of pediatric non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Although treatment for children with advanced-stage B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma has made great strides over recent decades, Dr. Gross and team still weren’t satisfied. Even after cure rates rose from 30% to 85% in the 1980s through improved chemotherapy, they wanted to do better.
New treatment leads to 95% cure rate
When rituximab, a medication used to treat certain autoimmune diseases and cancers, is administered with chemotherapy, more than 95% of children and adolescents with advanced B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma are disease-free after more than three years and considered cured. This new combined therapy decreased the number of treatment failures by 70% and increased cure rates by more than 10%.
The importance of collaboration to find a cure
Cancers are rare in childhood, so the development of new drugs to treat them often requires international collaboration. This academic clinical trial for childhood cancer is an example of international cooperation. It also stresses the importance of public and private collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry and national cancer research funding agencies.
The trial supported a Pediatric Investigating Plan and involved two international cooperative groups: the European Intergroup for Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (EICNHL) and the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Learn more about our research at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.