New Leukemia Drug Works for Incurable Stomach Tumors, Too
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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."
Blanke tells WebMD that Gleevec hones in on c-kit, a gene that sends a
signal that tells cells to grow. This gene is present in many cancer cells, he
says. If c-kit is abnormal it causes uncontrolled cell growth and
multiplication, which forms a tumor. The drug blocks the signal. Oncologist
Michael Gordon, MD, of the Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson, says that Gleevec
works like a circuit breaker to shut down the power to the cell.
In his study of 139 patients with GIST, more than half of the patients
responded to treatment, says Blanke. Hendrickson was patient No. 1.
"They rushed the study because I was so near death," Hendrickson
says. "I knew the drug was working right away because in seven days I went
from severe pain to moderate pain and after 40 days my first CT scan showed
that the tumor was reduced by 47%."
Allan T. van Oosterom, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Leuven
in Belgium, says that a smaller study of 36 patients with GIST suggests that
the most effective dose is actually 800 mg or twice what Hendrickson takes.
"I have two patients who didn't respond at 400 mg; we increased to 800 mg
and now they are responding," van Oosterom tells WebMD.
At a press conference Sunday where the Gleevec results were presented at the
American Society of Clinical Oncologists meeting held here, he said "I have
been waiting 30 years to report results like these."