Getting diagnosed of chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML, was tantamount to hearing a death sentence before the cancer drug imatinib mesylate, which is sold as Gleevec, was introduced in 2001.
Wonder Drug Gleevec
The drug was hailed as a wonder drug for patients with CML, a type of blood cancer that affects about 5,000 in the United States per year. Before the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug, less than one in three patients with CML survived five years after their diagnosis.
Now, a new study gives credence to Gleevec being a wonder drug. Findings of the study, which were published in the New England Journal Medicine on Thursday, March 9, revealed that the drug can keep patients alive for 10 years or more.
Investigators found that the cancer drug appears to keep the blood disease at bay 10 years into treatment and without signs of further safety risks.
Study researcher Andreas Hochhaus, from Jena University Hospital in Germany, said that the findings provide additional evidence that the early "hype" around the drug was correct.
Improved Life Expectancy
Of the 500 patients involved in the study who were given Gleevec as their initial therapy, the researchers found that more than 83 percent were alive a decade later, a significant improvement when compared with the general survival rate of CML patients prior to the approval of Gleevec.
The researchers said that life expectancy of the patients was almost normal and that they did not find evidence of new, long-range risk from Gleevec treatment, which is a welcome news since in the early days, there were concerns that use of the drug may boost risks for other health conditions such as heart disease.
"Serious adverse events that were considered by the investigators to be related to imatinib were uncommon and most frequently occurred during the first year of treatment," the researchers wrote in their study.
"Almost 11 years of follow-up showed that the efficacy of imatinib persisted over time and that long-term administration of imatinib was not associated with unacceptable cumulative or late toxic effects."
Study researcher Brian Druker, of the Oregon Health and Science University Knight Cancer Institute, said that one of the advantages of treating CML patients with Gleevec is that most of those who were diagnosed are already in a chronic stage of the illness.
Since CML patients can expect to live for decades, the researchers said it is crucial to monitor and manage age-related health issues and other conditions that coexist during the chronic phase of the disease.
Targeted Personalized Medicine For Cancer Patients
Gleever is the first targeted personalized medicine to be used and is considered the most successful. It ushered in the period of personalized cancer medicine that shows it is possible to shut down cells that enable cancer to grow without causing harm to the healthy ones.
"Our results demonstrating Gleevec's high efficacy in CML tell us to realize the full promise of precision cancer medicine, we need to diagnose and treat patients earlier in the disease course," Druker said.