Lenalidomide-Epoetin Alfa Versus Lenalidomide Monotherapy in Myelodysplastic Syndromes Refractory to Recombinant Erythropoietin

J Clin Oncol. 2021 Mar 20;39(9):1001-1009. doi: 10.1200/JCO.20.01691. Epub 2021 Jan 13.


Purpose: Impaired response to erythropoietin underlies ineffective erythropoiesis and anemia in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). We investigated whether treatment with lenalidomide (LEN), which augments erythropoietin receptor signaling in vitro, can restore and improve hemoglobin response to epoetin (EPO) alfa in patients with lower-risk, non-del(5q) MDS who have anemia that is refractory to or have low probability of benefit from treatment with recombinant erythropoietin.

Methods: In a phase III, US intergroup trial, we randomly assigned patients to receive either LEN and EPO alfa or LEN alone following stratification by serum erythropoietin concentration and prior erythropoietin treatment.

Results: A total of 195 evaluable patients were randomly assigned: 99 patients to the LEN-EPO alfa cohort and 96 to LEN alone. After four cycles of treatment, the primary end point of major erythroid response (MER) was significantly higher (28.3%) with the combination compared with LEN alone (11.5%) (P = .004). Among 136 patients who completed 16 weeks of study treatment, 38.9% and 15.6% achieved MER, respectively (P = .004). Additionally, minor erythroid response was achieved in 18.2% and 20.8% of patients, for an overall erythroid response rate of 46.5% versus 32.3%. Among LEN nonresponders, 38 crossed over to the addition of EPO alfa with 10 patients (26.3%) achieving a MER. Responses to the combined treatment were highly durable with a median MER duration of 23.8 months compared with 13 months with LEN alone.

Conclusion: LEN restores sensitivity to recombinant erythropoietin in growth factor-insensitive, lower-risk, non-del(5q) MDS, to yield a significantly higher rate and duration of MER compared with LEN alone (funded by the National Cancer Institute; E2905 ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02048813).

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02048813 NCT00843882.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects*
  • Epoetin Alfa / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lenalidomide / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / drug therapy*
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / pathology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Survival Rate


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Epoetin Alfa
  • Lenalidomide

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02048813
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00843882