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Some With Once-Deadly Leukemia Can Take a Break From Gleevec
Date:10/20/2010

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A small group of people with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) who decided to stop taking the cancer drug Gleevec (imatinib) have remained cancer-free two years later, French researchers report.

The study, published online Oct. 19 in The Lancet Oncology, is the first to raise the possibility that the drug might go beyond long-term cancer control and offer some patients a possible cure.

"We've never really told patients that we have a therapy that can provide a cure for this disease," said one expert, Dr. John Cole, chairman of the department of hematology/oncology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans. "We've simply never used the 'cure' word."

Gleevec -- a highly targeted member of a class of drugs called protein-tyrosine kinase inhibitors -- was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use against CML in 2001. The medication works by thwarting the activity of an aberrant protein that helps drive the disease. Gleevec has proven to be a revolutionary advance against CML, a cancer of the white blood cells that previously had a very poor prognosis.

According to the researchers, studies suggest that the drug now offers CML patients an 89 percent chance of survival five years after treatment initiation, and an 85 percent survival rate after eight years.

Still, the drug does have one major downside: cost. Currently, the bill for Gleevec therapy can total about $4,500 per month.

The new study was led by Francois-Xavier Mahon, of the Hematology Lab and Blood Disease Service division of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Bordeaux in France. To establish whether or not Gleevec could actually thwart CML in certain cases, Mahon and colleagues spent a year tracking 69 CML patients at 19 different medical facilities across France. "We are on the 'path to cure' of CML," Mahon said.

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