Where to Turn for Second-Line Cytoreduction After Hydroxyurea in Polycythemia Vera?

 The goals of therapy in patients with polycythemia vera (PV) are to improve disease-related symptoms, prevent the incidence or recurrence of thrombosis, and possibly delay or prevent the transformation into myelofibrosis or acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Cytoreductive therapies have been used in older patients and those with a history of thrombosis to achieve these goals. Hydroxyurea (HU) remains the first-line cytoreductive choice; however, up to one in four patients treated with HU over time will develop resistance or intolerance to HU. More importantly, patients who fail HU have a 5.6-fold increase in mortality and a 6.8-fold increase risk of transformation to myelofibrosis or AML; therefore, alternative therapies are needed for these patients. Interferon-α has been used in PV and has shown significant activity in achieving hematologic responses and decreasing JAK2 V617F mutation allele burden. JAK inhibition has also been investigated and recently garnered regulatory approval for this indication. In this review, we will discuss the current treatment options that are available for patients after HU and the novel therapies that are currently under investigation.

Implications for Practice:

The outcomes of PV patients who fail or who are intolerant of hydroxyurea are poor. Although pegylated interferon can be considered in younger patients, currently, ruxolitinib is the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved agent in this setting, representing a viable option, leading to hematocrit control and a reduction in spleen size and constitutional symptoms. Although a small number of patients will achieve a molecular response with continuous treatment, the implications of such response on the clinical outcomes are still unknown. Patients whose disease is not adequately controlled with ruxolitinib, or who lose their response, can be treated with low-dose busulfan or pipobroman; however, they should be encouraged to participate in trials with novel therapies.

Treatment of polycythemia vera with hydroxyurea and pipobroman: final results of a randomized trial initiated in 1980.

The overall impact of hydroxyurea (HU) or pipobroman treatments on the long-term outcome of patients with polycythemia vera (PV) has not been assessed in randomized studies. We report final analyses from the French Polycythemia Study Group (FPSG) study, which randomly assigned HU versus pipobroman as first-line therapy in 285 patients younger than age 65 years.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: The full methodology has been described previously. FPSG results were updated with a median follow-up of 16.3 years. Statistical analysis was performed by using competing risks on the intention-to-treat population and according to main treatment received.
RESULTS: Median survival was 17 years for the whole cohort, 20.3 years for the HU arm, and 15.4 years for the pipobroman arm (P = .008) and differed significantly from that in the general population. At 10, 15, and 20 years, cumulative incidence of acute myeloid leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome (AML/MDS) was 6.6%, 16.5%, and 24% in the HU arm and 13%, 34%, and 52% in the pipobroman arm (P = .004). Cumulative myelofibrosis incidence at 10, 15, and 20 years according to main treatment received was 15%, 24%, and 32% with HU versus 5%, 10%, and 21% with pipobroman (P = .02).
CONCLUSION: Data from this unique randomized trial comparing HU with another cytoreductive drug in PV showed that (1) survival of patients with PV treated with conventional agents differed from survival in the general population, (2) evolution to AML/MDS is the first cause of death, (3) pipobroman is leukemogenic and is unsuitable for first-line therapy, and (4) incidence of evolution to AML/MDS with HU is higher than previously reported, although consideration should be given to the natural evolution of PV.