Background: Zanubrutinib is a next-generation, selective Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor with efficacy in relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL). We compared zanubrutinib with bendamustine-rituximab to determine its effectiveness as frontline therapy in patients with CLL or SLL.
Methods: We conducted an open-label, multicentre, phase 3 study at 153 academic or community hospitals in 14 countries and regions. Eligible patients had untreated CLL or SLL requiring treatment as per International Workshop on CLL criteria; were aged 65 years or older, or 18 years or older and had comorbidities; and had an Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status score of 0-2. A central interactive web response system randomly assigned patients without del(17)(p13·1) to zanubrutinib (group A) or bendamustine-rituximab (group B) by sequential block method (permutated blocks with a random block size of four). Patients with del(17)(p13·1) were enrolled in group C and received zanubrutinib. Zanubrutinib was administered orally at 160 mg twice per day (28-day cycles); bendamustine at 90 mg/m2 of body surface area on days 1 and 2 for six cycles plus rituximab at 375 mg/m2 of body surface area the day before or on day 1 of cycle 1, and 500 mg/m2 of body surface area on day 1 of cycles 2-6, were administered intravenously. The primary endpoint was progression-free survival per independent review committee in the intention-to-treat population in groups A and B, with minimum two-sided α of 0·05 for superiority. Safety was analysed in all patients who received at least one dose of study treatment. The study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT03336333, and is closed to recruitment.
Findings: Between Oct 31, 2017, and July 22, 2019, 590 patients were enrolled; patients without del(17)(p13·1) were randomly assigned to zanubrutinib (group A; n=241) or bendamustine-rituximab (group B; n=238). At median follow-up of 26·2 months (IQR 23·7-29·6), median progression-free survival per independent review committee was not reached in either group (group A 95% CI not estimable [NE] to NE; group B 28·1 months to NE). Progression-free survival was significantly improved in group A versus group B (HR 0·42 [95% CI 0·28 to 0·63]; two-sided p<0·0001). The most common grade 3 or worse adverse event was neutropenia (27 [11%] of 240 patients in group A, 116 [51%] of 227 in group B, and 17 [15%] of 111 patients in group C). Serious adverse events occurred in 88 (37%) of 240 patients in group A, 113 (50%) of 227 patients in group B, and 45 (41%) of 111 patients in group C. Adverse events leading to death occurred in 11 (5%) of 240 patients in group A, 12 (5%) of 227 patients in group B, and three (3%) of 111 patients in group C, most commonly due to COVID-19 (four [2%] of 240 patients in group A), diarrhoea, and aspiration pneumonia (two each [1%] of 227 patients in group B).
Interpretation: Zanubrutinib significantly improved progression-free survival versus bendamustine-rituximab, with an acceptable safety profile consistent with previous studies. These data support zanubrutinib as a potential new treatment option for untreated CLL and SLL.
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