Pill Fights Deadly Blood Disorder
Revlimid not only can eliminate the need for transfusions in some people with a deadly blood disorder but also can wipe out all signs of the disease in some of them.
WebMD News Archive
May 17, 2005 (Orlando, Fla.) -- A new pill not only can eliminate the need
for transfusions in some people with a deadly blood disorder but also can wipe
out all signs of the disease in some of them.
The experimental drug, Revlimid, is being tested in people with
myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a group of disorders caused by the bone
marrow not making enough healthy, mature blood cells.
No one knows exactly how common MDS is, but most estimates are between
10,000 to 15,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States -- and the
number of cases is increasing.
MDS is rare in young adults. About 80% to 90% of all patients with MDS are
older than 60. Stem cell transplantation can be curative, but it's not an
option for most of the patients due to their age. Most are treated with
transfusions and growth factors to improve their blood counts and decrease
But Revlimid could change all that, experts say.
"It's a successful treatment for a disease where options are now very
limited," says J. Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the
American Cancer Society. "Now we have something where there was not much
His comment echoed those of many cancer doctors who heard the news at the
annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) this
Quick Approval Predicted
The findings are so promising, says ASCO President David Johnson, MD, that
Revlimid will probably be quickly approved by the FDA.
Researcher Alan List, MD, of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa,
Fla., calls the drug a "breakthrough."
He studied nearly 150 people with MDS who relied on blood transfusions to
stay alive. After just six months on the drug, two-thirds of them no longer
needed the transfusions, he says. A year later, three-fourths of them were
Even more exciting, he says, is that the drug eradicated all signs of a
genetic defect that can cause the disease in about half of people who had the
"It looks like the drug is putting them into remission," Lichtenfeld
There were some side effects. Nearly four in 10 people experienced drops in
blood cell counts, which resolved after the dose was lowered or people were
given a drug holiday.
Revlimid is cousin to thalidomide, the infamous drug that was pulled from
the market after it caused birth defects several ago but has since proven
effective against cancers, including multiple myeloma.
The study was sponsored by Celgene Corp., which makes Revlimid.