Non Hodgkin Lymphoma Treated with B-Cell Depleting Immunotherapy May Result in Prolonged Hospital Stay and Higher Morbidity after Covid-19 Infection

SUMMARY: The SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus (COVID-19) induced pandemic first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, has contributed to significant mortality and morbidity in the US, and the number of infections, continue to exponentially increase worldwide. Majority of the patients present with treatment-resistant pyrexia and respiratory insufficiency, with some of these patients progressing to a more severe systemic disease and multiple organ dysfunction.

Patients with lymphoproliferative disorders may be immune deficient due to their underlying disease or due to the therapies they receive, which in turn can increase the incidence and severity of infections. Patients with Non Hodgkin Lymphoma are often treated with CD20 targeted, B-cell depleting monoclonal antibodies such as RITUXAN® (Rituximab) or GAZYVA® (Obinutuzumab), as they were shown to improve survival among patients with B-cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Depleting B cells dampens the body’s ability to generate antibody responses to new pathogens, which may impact the clinical course of COVID-19. The authors in this study analyzed the clinical course of COVID-19 infection in hospitalized lymphoma patients, and characterized the determinants of worse outcomes.

It has been shown in several studies and registries that patients with hematologic malignancies including lymphomas have a higher incidence of death from COVID-19 compared with other types of cancer. Additional risk factors for COVID-19-related mortality include older age and relapsed or refractory disease. To better understand the risk factors associated with worse outcomes from COVID-19 in this patient population, the authors conducted a retrospective study of 111 patients with lymphoma, hospitalized for COVID-19, at any of the 16 French hospitals, during March and April 2020. The researchers specifically focused on identifying factors associated with prolonged hospital stay (longer than 30 days), or hospitalization for recurrent symptoms for more than 30 days and death, and used length of hospital stay as a proxy for persistent COVID-19 infection. Study patients included those formerly treated for lymphoma, those currently undergoing treatment, or had no treatment.

Of the 111 patients included in this study, 57% (N=63) had previously received B-cell-depleting therapy. The most common type of lymphoma was Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Twenty nine percent (29%) of all patients required a prolonged hospital stay (longer than 30 days) due to severe COVID-19 symptoms and persistent disease. The median age of patients with persistent COVID-19 was 64 years and 63% were male. More than two-thirds (69%) had at least one significant comorbidity. None of the patients with T-cell lymphoma included in the study (N=8) experienced persistent COVID-19 infection.

At a median follow-up of 191 days, the 6-month Overall Survival for the entire cohort was 69%. Older age (70 years and over) as well as relapsed/refractory disease were both associated with worse survival and prolonged hospital stays. After adjusting for age, comorbidities, and the presence of relapsed/refractory disease, the researchers noted that receipt of B-cell-depleting treatment within the previous 12 months nearly doubled the likelihood of a prolonged hospital stay and more than doubled the risk of death. After 1 month, 41% of patients who received anti-CD20 monoclonal antibodies were still hospitalized for COVID-19 versus 13% not treated with those antibodies.

The authors concluded that standardized guidelines on the use of anti-CD20 therapies are needed to help us make decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and convalescent plasma may be a treatment consideration for B-cell-depleted patients with persistent COVID-19. Patients who recently received B-cell depleting therapies and have COVID-19 should be closely monitored. Additionally, the efficacy and timing of vaccination in this particular population needs further study.

Prolonged in-hospital stay and higher mortality after Covid-19 among patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma treated with B-cell depleting immunotherapy. Dulery R, Lamure S, Delord M, et al. Am J Hematol. 2021;96:934-944.