Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinaemia (WM) is a rare type of slow developing cancer which affects a type of cell of the immune system called B-cells. It is caused when abnormal B-cells build up in the bone marrow and other parts of the immune system which can block other normal blood cells from being produced. The abnormal B-cells also release large amounts of a protein called IgM which can build up in the blood making it thicker. People can live with WM for many years and will only usually receive treatment when the disease of symptoms begin to worsen. Treatments which are currently available include chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and plasma replacement.
Zanubrutinib is an oral drug taken twice a day which is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of patients with WM. Zanubrutinib works by blocking a protein called Bruton’s Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) in the abnormal B-cells which prevents the growth of these cells. As this drug specifically targets the abnormal B-cells, unlike chemotherapy drugs, this type of drug may provide fewer side effects than existing treatment for WM.
Nivolumab is a drug that works by improving the activity of T-cells (a type of white blood cells) and thereby increasing the ability of the immune system to kill cancer cells. Ipilimumab is another drug that works in a different way to also increase the activity of T-cells. Both drugs are given by injection into the veins. It is thought these drugs when used together may be more effective than each drug on its own. If licenced, nivolumab in combination with ipilimumab will offer additional treatment option to prolong the lives of people with head and neck cancers.