Enhancing the action of rituximab in chronic lymphocytic leukemia by adding fresh frozen plasma: complement/rituximab interactions & clinical results in refractory CLL

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Sep;1173:865-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04803.x.


Many patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) develop progressive treatment-resistant disease. Rituximab (RTX), a monoclonal antibody targeting CD20 on B lymphocytes and widely used in other indolent B-cell neoplasms is less efficacious in CLL, possibly because of associated complement deficiencies. Initial in vitro and in vivo observations support the central role of complement in rituximab-mediated loss of CD20(+) cells in CLL. In an open trial conducted in outpatient hematology clinics in Israel and Greece, we examined whether providing complement by concurrent administration of fresh frozen plasma (FFP) would enhance the effect of RTX in CLL. Five patients with severe treatment-resistant CLL were included in the trial. All had been previously treated with fludarabine, and three also failed treatment with RTX. Each patient was treated with two units of FFP followed with RTX 375 mg/m(2) as a single agent, repeated every 1-2 weeks as needed. A rapid and dramatic clinical and laboratory response was achieved in all patients. Lymphocyte counts dropped markedly followed by shrinkage of lymph nodes and spleen and improvement of the anemia and thrombocytopenia. This could be maintained over 8 months (median) with additional cycles if necessary. Treatment was well tolerated in all cases. In conclusion, adding FFP to RTX may provide a useful therapeutic option in patients with advanced CLL resistant to treatment. Further studies are needed to confirm and study the efficacy of the FFP/RTX combination in advanced CLL, establish the mechanisms, and possibly extend its use to other B-cell-dependent pathologies, such as treatment-refractory autoimmune diseases.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antigens, CD20 / immunology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / immunology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blood Transfusion / methods*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Complement System Proteins / immunology
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / immunology
  • Lymph Nodes / drug effects
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Plasma*
  • Rituximab
  • Spleen / drug effects
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antigens, CD20
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Rituximab
  • Complement System Proteins