Alemtuzumab for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;2012(2):CD008078. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008078.pub2.


Background: Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) accounts for 25% of all leukaemias and is the most common lymphoid malignancy in Western countries. Standard treatment includes mono- or poly-chemotherapies. Nowadays, monoclonal antibodies are added, especially alemtuzumab and rituximab. However, the impact of these agents remains unclear, as there are hints of an increased risk of severe infections.

Objectives: To assess alemtuzumab compared with no further therapy, or with other anti-leukaemic therapy in patients with CLL.

Search methods: We searched CENTRAL and MEDLINE (from January 1985 to November 2011), and EMBASE (from 1990 to 2009) as well as conference proceedings for randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Two review authors (KB, NS) independently screened search results.

Selection criteria: We included RCTs comparing alemtuzumab with no further therapy or comparing alemtuzumab with anti-leukaemic therapy such as chemotherapy or monoclonal antibodies in patients with histologically-confirmed B-cell CLL. Both pretreated and chemotherapy-naive patients were included.

Data collection and analysis: We used hazard ratios (HR) as an effect measure for overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) and risk ratios (RRs) for response rates, treatment-related mortality (TRM) and adverse events. Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed the quality of trials.

Main results: Our search strategies led to 1542 potentially relevant references. Of these, we included five RCTs involving 845 patients. Overall, we judged the quality of the five trials as moderate. All trials were reported as randomised and open-label studies. However, two trials were published as abstracts only, therefore, we were unable to assess the potential risk of bias for these trials in detail. Because of the small number of studies in each analysis (two), the quantification of heterogeneity was not reliable.Two trials (N = 356) assessed the efficacy of alemtuzumab compared with no further therapy. One trial (N = 335), reported a statistically significant OS advantage for all patients receiving alemtuzumab (HR 0.65 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.45 to 0.94; P = 0.021). However, no improvement was seen for the subgroup of patients in Rai stage I or II (HR 1.07; 95% CI 0.62 to 1.84; P = 0.82). In both trials, the complete response rate (CRR) (RR 2.61; 95% CI 1.26 to 5.42; P = 0.01) and PFS (HR 0.58; 95% CI 0.44 to 0.76; P < 0.0001) were statistically significantly increased under therapy with alemtuzumab. The potential heterogeneity seen in the forest plot could be due to the different study designs: One trial evaluated alemtuzumab additional to fludarabine as relapse therapy; the other trial examined alemtuzumab compared with no further therapy for consolidation after first remission.There was no statistically significant difference for TRM between both arms (RR 0.57; 95% CI 0.17 to 1.90; P = 0.36). A statistically significant higher rate of CMV reactivation (RR 10.52; 95% CI 1.42 to 77.68; P = 0.02) and infections (RR 1.32; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.74; P = 0.04) occurred in patients receiving alemtuzumab. Seven severe infections (64%) in the alemtuzumab arm in the GCLLSG CLL4B study led to premature closure.Two trials (N = 177), evaluated alemtuzumab versus rituximab. Neither study reported OS or PFS. We could not detect a statistically significant difference for CRR (RR 0.85; 95% CI 0.67 to 1.08; P = 0.18) or TRM (RR 3.20; 95% CI 0.66 to 15.50; P = 0.15) between both arms. However, the CLL2007FMP trial was stopped early due to an increase in mortality in the alemtuzumab arm. More serious adverse events occurred in this arm (43% versus 22% (rituximab), P = 0.006).One trial (N = 297), assessed the efficacy of alemtuzumab compared with chemotherapy (chlorambucil). For this trial, no HR is reported for OS. Median survival has not yet been reached, 84% of patients were alive in each arm at the data cut-off or at the last follow-up date (24.6 months). The TRM between arms shows no statistical significant difference (0.6% versus 2.0%; P = 0.34). Alemtuzumab statistically significantly improves PFS (HR 0.58; 95% CI 0.43 to 0.77; P = 0.0001), time to next treatment (23.3 compared with 14.7 months; P = 0.0001), ORR (83.2% versus 55.4%; P < 0.0001), CRR (24.2% versus 2.0%; P < 0.0001), and minimal residual disease rate (7.4% versus 0%; P = 0.0008) compared with chlorambucil. Statistically, significantly more asymptomatic (51.7% versus 7.4%) and symptomatic cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections (15.4% versus 0%) occurred in the patients treated with alemtuzumab.

Authors' conclusions: In summary, the currently available evidence suggests an OS, CRR and PFS benefit for alemtuzumab compared with no further therapy, but an increased risk for infections in general, CMV infections and CMV reactivations. The role of alemtuzumab versus rituximab still remains unclear, further trials with longer follow-up and overall survival as primary endpoint are needed to evaluate the effects of both agents compared with each other. Alemtuzumab compared with chlorambucil seems to be favourable in terms of PFS, but a longer follow-up period and trials with overall survival as primary endpoint are needed to determine whether this effect will translate into a survival advantage.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alemtuzumab
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Chlorambucil / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / mortality
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rituximab
  • Vidarabine / analogs & derivatives
  • Vidarabine / therapeutic use


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Chlorambucil
  • Alemtuzumab
  • Rituximab
  • Vidarabine
  • fludarabine