Ibrutinib and other targeted inhibitors of B-cell receptor signaling achieve impressive clinical results for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). A treatment-induced rise in absolute lymphocyte count (ALC) has emerged as a class effect of kinase inhibitors in CLL and warrants further investigation. Here we report correlative studies in 64 patients with CLL treated with ibrutinib. We quantified tumor burden in blood, lymph nodes (LNs), spleen and bone marrow, assessed phenotypic changes of circulating cells and measured whole-blood viscosity. With just one dose of ibrutinib, the average increase in ALC was 66%, and in>40% of patients the ALC peaked within 24 h of initiating treatment. Circulating CLL cells on day 2 showed increased Ki67 and CD38 expression, indicating an efflux of tumor cells from the tissue compartments into the blood. The kinetics and degree of the treatment-induced lymphocytosis was highly variable; interestingly, in patients with a high baseline ALC the relative increase was mild and resolution rapid. After two cycles of treatment the disease burden in the LN, bone marrow and spleen decreased irrespective of the relative change in ALC. Whole-blood viscosity was dependent on both ALC and hemoglobin. No adverse events were attributed to the lymphocytosis.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01500733.