Targeted Therapy

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapies are newer cancer treatments that target a gene or protein responsible for allowing cancer to grow. Targeted drugs work differently and more selectively than standard chemotherapy drugs. For this reason, targeted therapies often have different side effects, which may also be less severe.

Currently targeted therapy is used to treat Philadelphia chromosome–positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (PH+ ALL), a subtype of the disease. The targeted therapy drugs, called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), block the leukemia-causing effects of the specific protein made by the BCR-ABL gene—a gene caused by a chromosomal translocation in PH+ ALL. These drugs are usually used in combination with chemotherapy to help patients go in to remission, and most patients continue on these drugs to keep their disease from coming back.

Some of the targeted therapy drugs used for PH+ ALL include:

  • Imatinib (Gleevec)
  • Dasatinib (Sprycel)
  • Ponatinib (Iclusig)
  • Bosutinib (Bosulif)
  • Nilotinib (Tasigna)

These drugs are typically taken daily as pills.

Clinical Studies

Other targeted drugs may improve outcomes and are being studied in clinical trials in people with ALL who have chromosomal abnormalities. For example, rituximab (Rituxan), a monoclonal antibody that targets the CD20 protein—found on the surface of B-cells—is being studied for a type of B-cell ALL. Clinical studies are often the recommended course of therapy for certain types of ALL. Find out more about participating in clinical studies for ALL

Side Effects

Targeted drugs work differently than chemotherapy drugs. For this reason, targeted therapies often have different, and sometimes less severe, side effects.

The side effects of targeted therapies vary greatly from person to person and depend on the type and dose of drugs given, how they are given, and the length of time they are given. Your treatment team can tell you about the side effects that are most common with your treatment.

Let your team know about any side effects you experience. They may be able to give you medicines to prevent or relieve side effects, suggest other ways to manage side effects, or change your targeted therapy or your treatment schedule. In some cases, they may reduce the dose or delay or stop treatment to prevent side effects from getting worse. For general information, visit our section on coping with side effects

The time it takes to get over some side effects and regain energy depends on many factors, including your overall health and your treatment.