Novel Therapies in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: A Rapidly Changing Landscape

Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2020 Mar 13;21(4):24. doi: 10.1007/s11864-020-0715-5.


Treatment landscape of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) has changed since 2014 after the introduction of inhibitors of B-cell receptor signaling pathway (ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, idelalisib and duvelisib) and the inhibitor of the anti-apoptotic protein BCL-2 (venetoclax). In 2019, novel agents were upgraded from being a "great treatment option" to the "preferred choice" for all lines of treatment after number of randomized clinical trials proved their superiority compared to conventional chemoimmunotherapy (CIT) regimens. A growing number of next-generation molecules are in clinical trials with a promise of improved efficacy and less toxicity. This includes agents with expected better safety profile (zanubrutinib, umbralisib, etc.) or more importantly with a potential to overcome the resistance mechanism to early generation agents (ARQ-531, LOXO-305, or vecabrutinib). Early intervention has once again become an active topic of research and, if proven to provide an overall survival benefit, will eliminate the "watch and wait" strategy for asymptomatic CLL patients. Until then, treatment should only be offered to patients who meet the standard treatment indication in standard practice. With our upgraded therapeutic toolbox, there are and will be many unanswered questions. CLL field will need to define the optimal treatment sequence and most effective combinations with a goal of having a time-limited and chemotherapy-free regimen that provides longest remissions and potentially cure. Cellular immunotherapy with chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) may become available for high-risk CLL along with allogeneic stem cell transplant (allo-SCT). Financial toxicity of novel agents especially when used in combination will need to be an important aspect of research in coming years to avoid unnecessary overtreatment of patients. As current prognostic models (CLL-IPI, etc.) were developed and validated in the CIT era, there is ongoing effort to develop new models using clinical and molecular characteristics to accurately define high-risk CLL in the era of novel agents. We all need to keep in mind that access to the novel agents is currently limited to certain developed countries and every effort should be made to make sure patients around the world also benefit from these outstanding drugs.

Keywords: Acalabrutinib; CLL; Duvelisib; Ibrutinib; Idelalisib; SLL; Treatment; Venetoclax.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Combined Modality Therapy / adverse effects
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / diagnosis
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / etiology
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / mortality
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / therapy*
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Time-to-Treatment
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers, Tumor