FDA approves new lymphoma drug developed at Roswell Park

Jun 20, 2019

It's common in medical research to say a new drug is a big deal. But Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center doctors say a federal approval of a new drug for treatment of lymphoma is a very big deal.

Credit Genetech

There are around 30,000 new cases of what is called relapsed lymphoma diagnosed every year. Of those, around 70% can be treated with available drugs. With a new drug to known as Polivy (Polatuzumab vedotin-piiq), that treatment rate is expected to rise to 90%. 

It is based on longtime research into monoclonal antibodies, manufactured proteins that can lock onto and kill cancer cells, by immunology professor Ben Seon, a 55-year Roswell Park researcher. Pharma giant Genentech then took over the antibody research and turned it into a drug approved days ago by the FDA.

"To move from laboratory to patient, you have to go step by step. You need reasons to do that," Seon said. "That's why you need to team up with a company. You have to find a company who are interested investing money to this new drug. Genetech did."

Seon said he went into cancer research because cancer killed his father when he was a high school student and his brother later also died of cancer.

Oncology Dr. Francisco Hernandez-Ilizaliturri said FDA approval of the drug means it can be used to treat patients everywhere.

"It can be ordered. It can be provided to the patient," Hernandez-Ilizaliturri said. "Polatuzumab certainly is still undergoing further clinical testing to see if we can identify an additional group of lymphoma patients who might benefit from the drug. So there is still ongoing clinical trials looking to see how we can better, can optimize, the medicine and what other patients we can help with the medicine."