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There have been significant advances in the treatment of relapsed/refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) over the past two decades. However, the intention of treatment remains control of the disease and delay of progression rather than a cure which remains largely elusive. Considering that CLL is mostly seen in older patients, there are multiple factors that play a role in the selection of CLL beyond the frontline treatment. Here, we review the concept of relapsed CLL, factors that predispose to relapse, and therapeutic options available to this patient population. We also review investigational therapies and provide a framework for selection of therapies in this setting. Targeted therapies with continuous BTK inhibitors (BTKi) or fixed duration venetoclax plus anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody therapy have established superiority over chemoimmunotherapy in relapsed CLL and have become the preferred standard of care treatment. The second-generation more selective BTK inhibitors (acalabrutinib and zanubrutinib) have shown improved safety profile compared to ibrutinib. However, resistance to the covalent BTK inhibitors may emerge and is commonly associated with mutations in BTK or other downstream enzymes. The novel non-covalent BTK inhibitors such as pirtobrutinib (Loxo-305) and nemtabrutinib (ARQ 531) are showing promising activities for relapsed CLL refractory to prior covalent BTKi. Other novel therapies such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy have also shown significant activities for relapsed and refractory CLL. Measurable residual disease (MRD) assessment has a growing importance in venetoclax-based limited-duration therapy and there is mounting evidence that MRD negativity improves outcomes. However, it remains to be seen if this will become an established clinically significant endpoint. Further, the optimal sequence of various treatment options remains to be determined. Patients with relapsed CLL now have more options for the treatment of the disease. The choice of therapy is best individualized especially in the absence of direct comparisons of targeted therapies, and the coming years will bring more data on the best sequence of use of the therapeutic agents. © 2023. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


Oluwatobi Odetola, Shuo Ma. Relapsed/Refractory Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Current hematologic malignancy reports. 2023 Oct;18(5):130-143

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PMID: 37278884

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