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Leukaemia drug 'boosts survival'

26th June 2006

A drug for chronic myeloid leukaemia which struggled to gain approval for widespread UK use has proved its worth in long-term clinical trials.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) initially only wanted Glivec to be given to patients with advanced disease.

However, latest results show around 90 per cent of patients who take the drug survive for at least five years. Glivec also appears to benefit people with Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours.

CML is a common form of blood cancer caused by a defect in the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. Around 600 cases a year are diagnosed in the UK.

Glivec works by precisely targeting the molecules thought to cause the cancer, and leaves healthy cells unaffected. As a result it has none of the severe side effects associated with current chemotherapy drugs used to treat the condition.

However, it is expensive, costing the health service at least £14,000 per patient per year.

Results from the IRIS study funded by Novartis, the makers of Glivec and the largest study of its kind on adults newly diagnosed with CML, show an estimated 93 per cent of patients taking the drug in the early chronic phase of the disease did not progress to the more advanced stages.

An estimated 83 per cent survived with no evidence of disease progression at all after five years.

Prior to Glivec the disease progressed to an advanced stage - with a very poor prognosis - within four to six years.

Separate studies have shown Glivec is an effective treatment for patients with advanced Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours (GISTs). GIST patients taking Glivec survived for an average of 58 months, compared with just 15 months with the previous standard chemotherapy treatment.

 

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