Background: Despite exciting new targeted therapeutics against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), chemotherapy remains a cornerstone of therapy. While purine nucleoside analogs have significant activity in low grade NHL, the pyrimidine nucleoside analog gemcitabine has been less extensively studied, but has important activity. Use of the anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody rituximab in combination with chemotherapy for B-NHL is becoming prevalent in clinical practice, but has not been extensively studied in pre-clinical models.
Methods: We have tested the activity of gemcitabine +/- rituximab in vitro and in scid/human NHL xenograft models. We used two t(14;18)+, CD20+ follicular B cell NHL cell lines, DoHH2 a transformed NHL line and WSU-FSCCL isolated from pleural fluid of a patient with indolent NHL.
Results: Gemcitabine is cytotoxic to DoHH2 and WSU-FSCCL cells in vitro, and the IC50 is 2-3 fold lower in the presence of rituximab. Apoptosis is also enhanced in the presence of rituximab. Clearance of NHL cells from ascites in scid mice is prolonged by the combination, as compared with either agent alone. Most importantly, survival of scid mice bearing human NHL cells is significantly prolonged by the combination of gemcitabine + rituximab.
Conclusion: Based on our pre-clinical data showing prolonged survival of mice bearing human lymphoma cell line xenografts after treatment with gemcitabine + anti-CD20 antibody, this combination, expected to have non-overlapping toxicity profiles, should be explored in clinical trials.