Gleevec, The Targeted Cancer Pill, Delivers More Good News To Patients

01/13/11  Portland, Ore.

Gleevec, the targeted cancer pill that has saved more than 100,000 lives, now is saving more children with a dire leukemia, as well as preventing disease progression with long term use in adults with chronic myeloid leukemia.

  “Data at this weekend’s meeting continues to show how much Gleevec has completely changed the outlook for so many, many patients facing cancer,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Cancer Institute.

At the plenary session of the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology researchers delivered news that Gleevec has been shown to improve outcomes for children with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL).

Ph+ ALL is the childhood leukemia with the worst prognosis and the Children’s Oncology Group study shows that adding Gleevec to the treatment almost completely reverses this poor prognosis. The Children’s Oncology Group is a worldwide clinical trial cooperative supported by the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

Also released at the conference is new data from the largest clinical trial in Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) that showed Gleevec, with long-term use, can prevent progression to advanced stages of the disease.

Six-year results of the International Randomized Interferon versus STI571 (IRIS) study for which Druker served as principal investigator, demonstrated that continuous treatment with Gleevec produced a declining rate of relapse over time. 

The downward trend in the risk of disease progression while on Gleevec has continued since year two of the study. Remarkably, between years five and six, no patients progressed to an advanced phase of the disease. 

“The news about Gleevec and the childhood leukemia study as well as the six-year IRIS study that shows there is no progression to advanced phase in CML means that more and more patients are surviving, despite being diagnosed with these cancers,” said Druker, JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and member of the National Academy of Sciences. He also is a professor of medicine (hematology and medical oncology), cell and developmental biology, and biochemistry and molecular biology in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Gleevec has also been approved for the treatment of gastrointestinal stromal tumors, pediatric CML, as well as five additional rare cancers.

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Particulars: Michael Heinrich, M.D., professor of medicine (hematology/medical oncology) in the OHSU School of Medicine and the Portland Veteran’s Affairs medical Center, and a member of the OHSU Cancer Institute, has been the principal investigator in research studies involving GIST and Gleevec.

The OHSU Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 120 clinical researchers, basic scientists and population scientists who work together to translate scientific discoveries into longer and better lives for cancer patients. In the lab, basic scientists examine cancer cells and normal cells to uncover molecular abnormalities that cause the disease. This basic science informs more than 200 clinical trials conducted at the OHSU Cancer Institute.