Tags: Miracle | Pill | Targets | Second | Kind | Cancer

Miracle Pill Targets Second Kind of Cancer

Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM

Gleevec, an orange capsule known in the lab as STI571, greatly shrunk invasive gastronintestinal stromal tumors (GIST) in 59 percent of the 148 patients enrolled, according to a presentation by co-investigator Charles Blanke, M.D., director of gastrointestinal oncology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore. Tumors in these patients broke down by half or more.

About another 30 percent of patients stabilized, meaning their tumors also shrank, but by less than half. For all patients, the receding tumors have not returned.

"This is the first real treatment for GIST, because standard radiation and chemotherapy don't do anything," Blanke told United Press International. Traditional, high-powered chemotherapy helps only 5 percent of patients with GIST.

A connective-tissue cancer of the intestinal tract, GIST strikes about 5,000 Americans yearly. The preferred treatment is surgical removal of the tumors before they spread, but that approach is rarely practical because the cancer quickly migrates.

The Gleevec trial began last July at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore., Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland. Patients ranged in age from 18 to 83.

Before joining the trial, "I felt terrible, and I was on my deathbed," 49-year-old Trudy Webb of Jefferson, Ore. told UPI. "This drug is absolutely wonderful, an absolute miracle. We all hope it's going to be a cure for our cancer."

It's too soon to know whether Gleevec will extend study participants' lives, says Blanke. But meanwhile, he says, it has improved daily quality of life for 90 percent of those suffering.

"People who've been on high-dose narcotics have gone off them; people who have been unable to eat normally are able to eat; people stuck in bed are resuming normal lives," Blanke said.

Side effects include bleeding from the mouth or rectum - thought to be a sign of tumors breaking up - minor liver inflammation, and troubling fluid retention.

"This is turning out to be a miracle drug," says David Baltimore, PhD, a biologist and president of California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and 1975 winner of the Nobel Prize. "And for a drug that has such a dramatic effect on cancer to have such little effect on the whole normal body is miraculous."

What remains to be seen, Baltimore cautions, is if the drug remains safe with long-term use and if patients remain in remission.

On the strength of the drug's ability to disable chronic myeloid leukemia, the FDA approved Gleevec May 10, less than three years from the beginning of clinical tests, making it the quickest approval of a cancer medication in history. The drug is manufactured by Novartis Pharma AG, based in East Hanover, N.J.

Gleevec is a chemical compound that jams up the cancer-causing activity of a mutant enzyme, KIT. KIT sets off the unbridled cell duplication leading to the growth of GIST. KIT is one of three related, abnormal enzymes that Gleevac thwarts.

Most cancers - unlike GIST, chronic myeloid leukemia and gliobastoma, a deadly brain cancer - are driven by multiple abnormal enzymes, making similar targeted therapy more complicated.

Gleevec's effect on glioblastoma is currently undergoing testing at 11 cancer centers nationally.

(Reported by Janet Filips in Eugene, Ore.)

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Gleevec, an orange capsule known in the lab as STI571, greatly shrunk invasive gastronintestinal stromal tumors (GIST) in 59 percent of the 148 patients enrolled, according to a presentation by co-investigator Charles Blanke, M.D., director of gastrointestinal oncology at...
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2001-00-14
Monday, 14 May 2001 12:00 AM
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