Cancer pill Gleevec, known generically as imatinib, turned chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML, from a certain death sentence into a manageable disease. Now data shows it's helped 83 percent of patients live 10 years or longer, even with side-effects that include a characteristic rash, nausea and fatigue.
"It's the first targeted personalized medicine that had ever been used. It was also the most successful," said Dr. Richard Silver, a hematologist and oncologist at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center. Before, CML patients had three options: treatment with toxic chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant or just dying. But on treatment patients rarely lived longer than three years. Now, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society estimates 36,000 to 100,000 Americans are CML survivors.
The researchers, led by Dr. Brian Druker of Oregon Health & Science University, published their final report Thursday on the original Gleevec trial, which had 1,100 patients. The proved result is a success: it's a 10-year survival of 83 percent. Patients still have leukemia, but it's not affecting their blood cell counts. However. the cost of treatment is a problem: Gleevec has been on the market for more than 15 years but it still costs more than $140,000 a year for the drug made in America, by Novartis.. The pills made by one Indian generic company cost $400 a year and a Canadian version costs $8,800.