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New Leukemia Drug Works for Incurable Stomach Tumors, Too

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WebMD Health News

May 13, 2001 (San Francisco) -- Todd Hendrickson says that last August he had "about 60 days to live. I had tumors the size of two footballs in my gut and I couldn't get out of bed unless my wife pulled me up." That changed on Aug. 3 when he became "patient No. 1" in a study of a new cancer drug code named STI571.

Today, Hendrickson spent his Sunday afternoon mowing his neighbor's lawn. And that, says Hendrickson, is a miracle

Just days after Gleevec -- the pill formerly known as STI571 -- received FDA approval to treat a type of leukemia called chronic myeloid leukemia, cancer researchers from the United States and Europe now report that the drug also works in patients with a previously untreatable type of stomach cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumor or GIST.

John Mendelsohn, MD, president of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says this new drug is one of about a dozen new compounds that are taking cancer treatment in a new direction -- targeted therapy. These new "smart bombs" seek out the unique property that turns a cell malignant, he says.

But he adds that unlike chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML, "with solid tumors, it is unlikely that there will be a single target."

Hendrickson, a 43-year-old investment banker from Minnetonka, Minn., tells WebMD that taking 400 mg of the drug each day since Aug. 3, 2000, has "shrunk my tumors by 82%. Right now they are basically liquefied, and I think they will just be absorbed by my body."

He adds, however, that his doctors haven't told him what will happen because "we are flying in new territory now."

 

His cancer was diagnosed 10 days before the birth of his youngest son. His oncologist told him then to "get my affairs in order because I wouldn't live to see that child's second birthday." That was October 1998. A year and half earlier, Hendrickson's surgeons had removed a 10 cm tumor from his stomach, but by that day in October the cancer was back and it had spread.

Around that time, Hendrickson met University of Minnesota transplant surgeon Tim Sielaff, MD. "He told me that he could keep cutting me to keep me alive until I could find the science to cure me," says Hendrickson. As surgery followed surgery, Hendrickson tried six different chemotherapy regimens, but each one failed to stop the cancer. Then last year, an oncologist at UCLA "referred me to Chuck Blanke."

That's Charles Blanke, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center in Portland. Blanke's colleague Bruce Druker, MD, developed STI571. "Chuck sent me to Druker, who tested my tumors and they were full of c-kit."

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