FDA Warns of Increased Risk of Death With CLL, Lymphoma Drug

Sharon Worcester, MA


June 30, 2022

The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning today that the cancer drug duvelisib (Copiktra, Verastem Inc), a PI3 kinase inhibitor, may increase the risk of death and serious side effects.

Duvelisib was approved in 2018 to treat adults with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) who had received at least two prior therapies that did not work or stopped working.

However, more recent 5-year overall survival results from the randomized phase 3 DUO clinical trial found a possible increased risk of death with duvelisib compared with another drug used to treat leukemia and lymphoma, according to an FDA Drug Safety Communication.

"The trial also found Copiktra was associated with a higher risk of serious side effects, including infections, diarrhea, inflammation of the intestines and lungs, skin reactions, and high liver enzyme levels in the blood," states the warning, which advises prescribers to weigh the risks and benefits of continued use versus use of other treatments.

More specifically, median 5-year overall survival among 319 patients with CLL or SLL in the DUO trial was 52.3 months with duvelisib versus 63.3 months with the monoclonal antibody ofatumumab (hazard ratio, 1.09 overall and 1.06 among patients who received at least two prior lines of therapy).

Serious adverse events of grade 3 or higher were also more common in those treated with duvelisib.

Of note, in April, the FDA also announced it was withdrawing approval of the relapsed or refractory follicular lymphoma indication for duvelisib, following a voluntary request by the drug manufacturer, Secura Bio Inc.

A public meeting will be scheduled to discuss the findings of the trial and whether the drug should continue to be prescribed.

This FDA warning follows the agency's June 1 withdrawal of approval for umbralisib (Ukoniq), another PI3 kinase inhibitor, following an investigation into a "possible increased risk of death."

As reported by Medscape, umbralisib had received accelerated approval in February 2021 to treat adults with relapsed or refractory marginal zone lymphoma following at least one prior therapy and those with relapsed or refractory follicular lymphoma who had received at least three prior therapies.

"These safety findings were similar for other medicines in the same PI3 kinase inhibitor class, which were discussed at an advisory committee meeting of non-FDA experts in April 2022," according to the FDA warning.

The FDA urges patients and healthcare professionals to report side effects involving duvelisib or other medicines to the FDA MedWatch program.

Sharon Worcester, MA, is an award-winning medical journalist based in Birmingham, Alabama, writing for Medscape, MDedge, and other affiliate sites. She currently covers oncology, but she has also written on a variety of other medical specialties and healthcare topics. She can be reached at sworcester@mdedge.com or on Twitter: @SW_MedReporter.

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