Background Ruxolitinib, a Janus kinase (JAK) 1 and 2 inhibitor, was shown to have a clinical benefit in patients with polycythemia vera in a phase 2 study. We conducted a phase 3 open-label study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of ruxolitinib versus standard therapy in patients with polycythemia vera who had an inadequate response to or had unacceptable side effects from hydroxyurea.
Methods We randomly assigned phlebotomy-dependent patients with splenomegaly, in a 1: 1 ratio, to receive ruxolitinib (110 patients) or standard therapy (112 patients). The primary end point was both hematocrit control through week 32 and at least a 35% reduction in spleen volume at week 32, as assessed by means of imaging.
Results The primary end point was achieved in 21% of the patients in the ruxolitinib group versus 1% of those in the standard-therapy group (P<0.001). Hematocrit control was achieved in 60% of patients receiving ruxolitinib and 20% of those receiving standard therapy; 38% and 1% of patients in the two groups, respectively, had at least a 35% reduction in spleen volume. A complete hematologic remission was achieved in 24% of patients in the ruxolitinib group and 9% of those in the standard-therapy group (P = 0.003); 49% versus 5% had at least a 50% reduction in the total symptom score at week 32. In the ruxolitinib group, grade 3 or 4 anemia occurred in 2% of patients, and grade 3 or 4 thrombocytopenia occurred in 5%; the corresponding percentages in the standard-therapy group were 0% and 4%. Herpes zoster infection was reported in 6% of patients in the ruxolitinib group and 0% of those in the standard- therapy group (grade 1 or 2 in all cases). Thromboembolic events occurred in one patient receiving ruxolitinib and in six patients receiving standard therapy.
Conclusions In patients who had an inadequate response to or had unacceptable side effects from hydroxyurea, ruxolitinib was superior to standard therapy in controlling the hematocrit, reducing the spleen volume, and improving symptoms associated with polycythemia vera.
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