New Leukemia Drug Works for Incurable Stomach Tumors, Too
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."