Pronounced Mab-there-rah

MabThera, also known as rituximab, is a prescription medicine used to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).

In indolent NHL, MabThera is registered by Medsafe for the treatment of follicular lymphoma patients for:

  • Induction treatment, in combination with chemotherapy.
  • Maintenance therapy, as a single treatment for a set number of cycles to help prevent relapse.

How MabThera works

MabThera is a type of treatment called monoclonal antibody therapy, and it works differently to other forms of cancer medicine you may know about or have received.

Antibodies are proteins produced naturally in the body, which specifically recognise and bind to other unique proteins in the body called antigens. Researchers have learned how to engineer and produce antibodies that target specific antigens found on cancer cells. These are known as monoclonal antibodies, and they mimic natural antibodies.

MabThera has been designed to target and attach to the CD20 protein (antigen) found on the surface of mature B lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Follicular lymphoma cells are affected B lymphocytes that can be targeted by MabThera.

Once attached to the CD20 protein, MabThera works in two different ways:

1. By helping your own immune system destroy the cancer cells

2. By destroying the cancer cells on its own.

MabThera can either be given as a solution into the veins (intravenous) or via subcutaneous injection.

Induction treatment is usually given in combination with chemotherapy for a set number of cycles with the aim of achieving remission.

MabThera for maintenance treatment is given as a single infusion or subcutaneous injection every two to three months for a maximum of two years or earlier if your disease progresses.

The goal with maintenance treatment is to prevent relapse of your disease. If you achieved partial remission after induction treatment, MabThera maintenance treatment may help you reach complete remission.

Possible side effects of MabThera

Side effects can happen during or after you receive an infusion of MabThera. Some infusion reactions can be serious and life threatening.

All medicines can have side effects. Sometimes they are serious, most of the time they are not. It’s important to know what side effects may happen, and what symptoms to watch out for. You’ll find a list of possible side effect in the MabThera Consumer Medicine Information by clicking here.

Always ask talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Clinical trial data

The safety and efficacy of MabThera for the maintenance treatment of follicular lymphoma has been studied in clinical trials.

In one large clinical trial, it was shown that after 10 years of follow-up, 5 out of 10 patients that received MabThera maintenance therapy were free from disease progression (compared to 3.5 out of 10 patients who did not receive maintenance therapy).

The above numbers may not mean much to you now, but your doctor or nurse can explain their significance for you.

Keep in mind that everyone is different, and the response and benefit you may experience cannot be predicted.

How to access MabThera

MabThera (the original rituximab) is registered by Medsafe for induction and maintenance treatment but it is not funded by PHARMAC for induction or  maintenance treatment. A biosimilar of rituximab is funded for induction and maintenance by PHARMAC. This means you will have to pay for MabThera if you want to have induction and maintenance therapy. Paying for treatment requires careful thought, but there are financial options that may help you fund private treatment. If you have health insurance, carefully check what’s covered — every health insurance provider has different rules and benefits that cover cancer treatment, surgery, tests and specialist appointments.

MabThera Access

Roche New Zealand does not have an access programme for MabThera. However we do provide MabThera in both intravenous ((IV) into the vein) and subcutaneous ((SC) under the skin) form. For many patients the convenience of MabThera SC is attractive as it reduces the time of administration of the drug significantly and does not require an IV line. Patients usually pay for each cycle as they go, meaning they only pay for treatment while they benefit from it. Your specialist will be able to give you more information regarding the cost of this treatment.

What this means for you

It means there are other options for your particular type of cancer.

MabThera maintenance after MabThera induction can help to give you a longer remission – and a considerably reduced risk of relapse.

Innovative cancer treatments like MabThera for maintenance treatment are available in New Zealand but not funded by PHARMAC. These medicines are backed by high quality research and has been designed to deliver improved outcomes to give you more time and quality of life.

It’s important and empowering for you to understand all your options, and know you’re getting the treatment that gives you your best chance.

If you are considering treatment with MabThera, talk to your doctor about:

• How much the medicines will cost
• What benefits the medicines might give you
• What the risks or side effects may be.

All treatments need to be considered in line with your individual situation, and your healthcare provider will determine whether MabThera maintenance is the right treatment for you.

Ready to take the next step?

Making decisions about treatment options involves working through the advantages and disadvantages, so you can decide what may work best for you and your loved ones.

Because every situation is different, it’s important to speak to your medical team to find out if MabThera is right for you.

Talking to your doctor about MabThera

We’ve put together a discussion guide to help you begin a conversation with your doctor about MabThera. Print it off, take it along to your next appointment, and take notes in the spaces provided.

For further information about private treatment providers click here.

You can also talk to your current doctor about referral to a private doctor or treatment center.

To learn more about how medicines become available in New Zealand, click here.

Handy resources

MabThera Consumer Medicine Information

MabThera® (rituximab), 100 mg in 10 mL and 500 mg in 50 mL concentrate for solution  for infusion, is a Prescription Medicine used to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)  and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

Do not use MabThera if: you have had an allergic reaction to MabThera or any of the  ingredients, or to proteins of mouse origin..   

Tell your doctor if: you are pregnant or breastfeeding or plan to become pregnant or breast-feed; you are taking medication to control blood pressure; you have any disorders  or conditions affecting your lungs; you have a history of heart disease, certain blood disorders (e.g. low white blood cells or low platelets), or hepatitis B; you have an infection, or a history of a recurring or long-term infection; you intend to have or recently had immunisation with any vaccine; you are allergic to any other medicines, foods, dyes  or preservatives.

Tell your doctor immediately or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Centre if you notice any of the following: infections with fever, severe chills, sore throat or mouth ulcers; severe skin rash, itching or hives; swelling of the face, lips, mouth  or throat which may cause difficulty in swallowing or breathing, swelling of the hands, feet or ankles; severe shortness of breath, severe difficulty breathing, severe wheezing,  severe coughing; numbness of the face; severe vision or hearing loss; vision loss associated with headaches, confusion and seizures; confusion, disorientation or memory  loss, changes in the way you move walk or talk, decreased strength or progressive weakness in your body, blurred or loss of vision; severe stomach pain, nausea or vomiting; yellowing of skin and eyes, light coloured bowel motions or dark coloured urine. Possible common side effects may also include: dizziness; insomnia,  agitation, feeling anxious; tiredness, headaches, being short of breath when exercising, dizziness and looking pale; general pain, stomach, chest, back and/or neck pain; aching,  weak, tender or stiff muscles; painful, swollen joints; indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea;  difficulty swallowing; loss of appetite, weight loss; cough; sweating or night sweats; tingling, numbness of feet and hands or decreased sensitivity; bleeding or bruising more  easily than normal; symptoms of high sugar levels in the blood (such as passing large amounts of urine, excessive thirst, dry mouth and/or skin); high blood pressure; fast and/or irregular heart beat; throat irritation, mouth ulcers; watering or itching eyes, pain or buzzing/ringing in the ears; infections.

MabThera has risks and benefits. Ask your doctor if MabThera is right for you. Use strictly as directed. If symptoms continue or you have side effects, see your healthcare professional. For further information on MabThera, please talk to your health professional or visit for MabThera Consumer Medicine Information.

MabThera is NOT a funded medicine for patients with NHL and CLL.
A prescription charge and normal doctor’s fees may apply.

Consumer panel dated 14 July 2020 based on CMI dated 4 March 2014.