OHSU Researcher Brian Druker to Testify Before U.S. Senate About Targeted Cancer Treatments

06/17/03    Portland, Ore.

Hearing will also focus on Congress's role in advancing cancer research

On June 17 at 3 p.m. in room 406 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Oregon Health & Science University researcher Brian Druker, M.D., will testify before a panel of U.S. Senate lawmakers about the development of the anticancer drug Gleevec and what steps can be taken to accelerate progress in cancer research.

Druker will testify at a hearing of the Senate Cancer Coalition hearing, which was convened by Senate Cancer Coalition co-chairs Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). The hearing will focus on cancer research breakthroughs leading to more targeted treatments as well as on what Congress can do to support cancer research efforts.

"As we attempt to cure cancer, there are three important means to accelerating our progress," said Druker, JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. "First is to increase cancer research funding. Second is to improve the climate for collaborations between university researchers and the pharmaceutical industry that would help speed drug discovery. And finally, we must focus attention on the early detection of cancer because we know that in its early stages, cancer has fewer abnormalities and targeted therapies are more effective."

Druker's research focuses on chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). He approaches CML from the inside out, studying the molecular origin of the disease as a means of developing the most effective treatments. His work, which has validated this model, has changed the face of cancer therapies, leading to an effective and nontoxic treatment that targets cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed.

In collaboration with scientists at Novartis, Druker developed Gleevec at OHSU for the treatment of CML. Almost all CML patients treated with Gleevec have had their blood counts return to normal and in 75 percent of these patients, leukemia cells can no longer be detected.

In 2001 Gleevec was approved by the FDA in less than three months, the agency's fastest approval of a cancer drug.

In 2002 the FDA approved Gleevec as an effective treatment for gastrointestinal stromal tumors, a deadly form of intestinal cancer that, until then, had been difficult to treat. Earlier this year an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine dubbed Gleevec the "gold standard" treatment for CML and Gleevec became the frontline CML therapy. Recent studies also have found Gleevec to be effective in treating hypereosinophilic syndrome, a rare and often fatal blood disorder. Most recently, Gleevec earned the FDA's approval for use in children, the first approval of a new pediatric cancer drug treatment in more than a decade.

Druker's current research focuses on understanding and predicting how individual CML patients respond to Gleevec and determining mechanisms of resistance if it occurs. He is also applying the Gleevec paradigm to another type of leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia.

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