In May, the FDA approved a drug called
Gleevec (STI-571) as a treatment for chronic
myelogenous leukemia (CML). The media went wild.
Barron's headlined: "Investing in Health, Curing
Cancer!" It claimed "we are finally winning the war."
The New York Times announced "the long-awaited payoff
from decades of research into the molecular biology of
cancer." Time went over the top.
Its May 28, 2001
cover demanded,"Is this the breakthrough we've been
waiting for?" The word "CANCER" was two inches high!
It referred to "a magic pill, a miracle breakthrough."
Not surprisingly, Gleevec flew off the shelves, at a
cost per person of $30,000 per year. Although CML
affects only 0.3 percent of all cancer patients, every
kind of patient wanted this "miracle." You can hardly
( View photo of the covers at:
But where's Gleevec now? At a recent symposium in New
York researchers quietly voiced their growing
skepticism."There are provocative datain CML patients
showing these are highly resistant to Gleevec," said
Connie J. Eaves, PhD of British Columbia. "Stem cells
in CML may not be responsive to this agent at all.We
are completely swept away by responses that may not
have very much to do with cure at all."
Rudiger Hehlmann, MD of Heidelberg, Germany, agreed.
He told researchers to remember that there are no
survival data for the use of this drug yet, except for
patients in blast crisis. "Euphoria is a bad advisor
in treatment," he added, sardonically.
John Goldman, MD, chief of hematology at Hammersmith
Hospital, London, said Gleevec as a single agent will
not even cure the majority of CML patients. "We do not
know what the basis for resistance is. It may be
acquired, or the disease may already be resistant
before the drug is used."
Nature News Service, 6/01
Brit J Cancer, 4/03
N Engl J Med. 2006 May 11;354(19):2006-13.
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