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Gleevec Gets High Marks for Leukemia Treatment

Study Shows the Drug Is a Successful Therapy for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

Why Does Gleevec Work So Well? continued...

“CML is a pretty simple cancer and we know a lot about it,” he tells WebMD.

Patients with CML have a specific genetic abnormality that causes the disease. Gleevec and the other targeted treatments work by blocking the cancer-promoting enzyme created by this abnormality.

“Most cancers have multiple genetic hits, so it is not surprising that a single drug targeting one thing would not be as effective,” he says.

In an editorial published with the study, Smith writes that confirming the long-term safety and effectiveness of targeted drug treatments for CML should spur research to find a cure for the disease.

Patients must stay on the targeted drugs for the rest of their lives and treatment with Gleevec can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 a year.

“We now know that patients do very well on these drugs, so we need to build on this success and look for ways to add to these therapies to achieve a cure,” he says.

Gina Russo, of the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, says she is optimistic that targeted treatments will prove useful for more and more cancers.

“This is a model for the treatment of other blood cancers and solid tumors,” she tells WebMD.

Second-Generation Drugs

While Jerry Mayfield believes he would not be alive without Gleevec, he is among the minority of patients to develop resistance to the drug.

After about three years on the targeted therapy it stopped working for him. He joined an experimental trial for the now-approved second-generation drug Sprycel in 2004 and is now responding well to the third-generation experimental drug ponatinib, being developed by ARIAD Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, Mass.

Now age 62, Mayfield is retired, living in Bloomington, Ill.

“I’ve certainly been at the right place at the right time and with a little luck and a little research and a little persistence, I’m still here and I’m still kicking,” he says.

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