Time-to-progression after front-line fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, and rituximab chemoimmunotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia: a retrospective, multicohort study

Lancet Oncol. 2019 Nov;20(11):1576-1586. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(19)30503-0. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Background: Fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, and rituximab (FCR) has become a gold-standard chemoimmunotherapy regimen for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. However, the question remains of how to treat treatment-naive patients with IGHV-unmutated chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. We therefore aimed to develop and validate a gene expression signature to identify which of these patients are likely to achieve durable remissions with FCR chemoimmunotherapy.

Methods: We did a retrospective cohort study in two cohorts of treatment-naive patients (aged ≥18 years) with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. The discovery and training cohort consisted of peripheral blood samples collected from patients treated at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, TX, USA), who fulfilled the diagnostic criteria of the International Workshop on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, had received at least three cycles of FCR chemoimmunotherapy, and had been treated between Oct 10, 2000, and Oct 26, 2006 (ie, the MDACC cohort). We did transcriptional profiling on samples obtained from the MDACC cohort to identify genes associated with time to progression. We did univariate Cox proportional hazards analyses and used significant genes to cluster IGHV-unmutated samples into two groups (intermediate prognosis and unfavourable prognosis). After using cross-validation to assess robustness, we applied the Lasso method to standardise the gene expression values to find a minimum gene signature. We validated this signature in an external cohort of treatment-naive patients with IGHV-unmutated chronic lymphocytic leukaemia enrolled on the CLL8 trial of the German Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Study Group who were treated between July 21, 2003, and April 4, 2006 (ie, the CLL8 cohort).

Findings: The MDACC cohort consisted of 101 patients and the CLL8 cohort consisted of 109 patients. Using the MDACC cohort, we identified and developed a 17-gene expression signature that distinguished IGHV-unmutated patients who were likely to achieve a long-term remission following front-line FCR chemoimmunotherapy from those who might benefit from alternative front-line regimens (hazard ratio 3·83, 95% CI 1·94-7·59; p<0·0001). We validated this gene signature in the CLL8 cohort; patients with an unfavourable prognosis versus those with an intermediate prognosis had a cause-specific hazard ratio of 1·90 (95% CI 1·18-3·06; p=0·008). Median time to progression was 39 months (IQR 22-69) for those with an unfavourable prognosis compared with 59 months (28-84) for those with an intermediate prognosis.

Interpretation: We have developed a robust, reproducible 17-gene signature that identifies a subset of treatment-naive patients with IGHV-unmutated chronic lymphocytic leukaemia who might substantially benefit from treatment with FCR chemoimmunotherapy. We recommend testing the value of this gene signature in a prospective study that compares FCR treatment with newer alternative therapies as part of a randomised clinical trial.

Funding: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Global Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Cyclophosphamide / administration & dosage*
  • Cyclophosphamide / adverse effects
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / genetics
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / immunology
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Remission Induction
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Rituximab / administration & dosage*
  • Rituximab / adverse effects
  • Texas
  • Time Factors
  • Transcriptome*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vidarabine / administration & dosage
  • Vidarabine / adverse effects
  • Vidarabine / analogs & derivatives*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Rituximab
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Vidarabine
  • fludarabine