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Gleevec Pushes Advanced Melanoma Into Remission

Woman's case first showing the cancer may have an Achilles' heel, report suggests

THURSDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- The cancer drug Gleevec has forced metastatic melanoma into remission for the first time, report researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The case involves a 79-year-old woman with melanoma tumors in several parts of her abdomen. The tumor cells carried an abnormality in a gene called KIT, so the patient was enrolled in a clinical trail of the drug imatinib (Gleevec), which targets the KIT gene.

Four weeks after the woman started therapy, there was dramatic reduction in tumor size and metabolism. Two of the tumor masses had vanished, and several others were much smaller. After four months, the tumors were still in check and, nine months later, the women was still taking the drug and her condition remained stable.

The report was published in the April 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"This is the first proof of principle that we can find an Achilles' heel in melanoma and by targeting that gene with a drug, cause the [tumor cells] to die. It is especially exciting because there haven't been any effective treatments for melanoma patients with metastatic disease," study author Dr. Stephen Hodi said in a prepared statement.

He said this case may involve just one patient, but should inspire new hope in the fight against melanoma. Because previous research failed to identify any genetic weak point that could be targeted to stop melanoma cell growth, some researchers believed that no such Achilles' heel existed for melanoma cells. The discovery of this one suggests there may be others.

"Dramatic remissions in metastatic melanoma are something that, as physicians, we've rarely seen. Confirming these results will require enrolling additional patients in clinical trials -- something we're actively working to accomplish," Hodi said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about melanoma.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, April 17, 2008

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