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Is Venclexta (venetoclax) chemotherapy?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Aug 7, 2023.

Official answer


Technically, Venclexta (venetoclax) is a type of targeted treatment rather than chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is defined as a drug treatment that kills fast-growing cells in your body, which means that it often kills other normal cells in your body that are fast-growing, such as red blood cells and cells in your hair. Venclexta works by binding to a specific protein called BCL-2 which is overexpressed on cancerous cells in people with cancers such as AML and CLL. By binding to this protein Venclexta kills cancerous CLL and AML lymphocytes, rather than other types of cells.

Venclexta (venetoclax) is approved to treat AML in adults aged 75 years or older, or in those with other medical conditions that prevent the use of intensive induction chemotherapy. It is taken once a day in combination with either azacytidine, decitabine, or low-dose cytarabine, and tablets should be swallowed whole and not crushed, chewed, or broken before swallowing.

How does Venclexta kill cancer cells?

Venclexta kills cancer cells by inhibiting BCL-2, which is a group of proteins that are responsible for regulating cell death by either inhibiting or inducing apoptosis. Apoptosis is an ordered form of cell death in which the contents of the cell are “packaged” for collection by immune cells. It is different from the way cells die due to an injury.

In certain cancers, such as CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and AML (acute myeloid leukemia) there is an abundance of BCL-2 on the surface of CLL and AML cells. This overexpression of BCL-2 allows tumor cells to survive for longer and has been associated with resistance to chemotherapy treatments. Laboratory research has shown that Venclexta binds to this protein and kills cancerous CLL and AML lymphocytes.


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