The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved Venclexta (venetoclax) for the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) who have a chromosomal abnormality called 17p deletion and who have been treated with a least one prior therapy. Venclexta is the first FDA-approved treatment that targets the B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL-2) protein, which supports cancer cell growth and is overexpressed in many patients with CLL.


According to the National Cancer Institute, CLL is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults, with approximately 15,000 new cases diagnosed each year. CLL is characterized by the progressive accumulation of abnormal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Patients with CLL who have a 17p deletion lack a portion of the chromosome that acts to suppress cancer growth. This chromosomal abnormality occurs in approximately 10 percent of patients with untreated CLL and in approximately 20 percent of patients with relapsed CLL.

“These patients now have a new, targeted therapy that inhibits a protein involved in keeping tumor cells alive,” said Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “For certain patients with CLL who have not had favorable outcomes with other therapies, Venclexta may provide a new option for their specific condition.”

The efficacy of Venclexta was tested in a single-arm clinical trial of 106 patients with CLL who have a 17p deletion and who had received at least one prior therapy. Trial participants took Venclexta orally every day, beginning with 20 mg and increasing over a five-week period to 400 mg. Results showed that 80 percent of trial participants experienced a complete or partial remission of their cancer. 

The FDA granted the Venclexta application breakthrough therapy designation, priority review status, and accelerated approval for this indication. These are distinct programs intended to facilitate and expedite the development and review of certain new drugs in light of their potential to benefit patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. Venclexta also received orphan drug designation, which provides incentives such as tax credits, user fee waivers and eligibility for exclusivity to assist and encourage the development of drugs for rare diseases.