Before the FDA approved imatinib mesylate (Gleevec), less than 1 in 3 patients with chronic myeloid leukemia survived five years past diagnosis. Results from a new follow-up study have now shown an estimated overall survival rate of 83.3 percent.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has estimated 36,000 to 100,000 Americans are chronic myeloid leukemia survivors.

The worldwide study encompassed 1,106 participants at 177 cancer centers in more than 16 countries, and was co-authored by Brian Druker, M.D., who led the original clinical development of Gleevec.

“The long-term success of this treatment confirms the remarkable success we’ve seen since the very first Gleevec trials,” said Druker. “This study reinforces the notion that we can create effective and non-toxic therapies."

Druker is director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Personalized Cancer Medicine

Childhood acute leukemia, several forms of lymphoma, and testicular cancer all became largely curable malignant conditions due to the advent of combination chemotherapy. The discovery of Gleevec ushered in the era of personalized cancer medicine, proving it was possible to shut down cells that enable cancer to grow without harming healthy ones.

“The development of imatinib fundamentally altered the field of oncology. Priorities shifted from agents that were active on dividing cells to understanding the biology of individual types of cancer,"

writes Dan Longo, M.D., in an accompanying editorial.

Imatinib has also proven effective against multiple forms of cancer, including pediatric CML and gastrointestinal stromal tumor, or GIST. A recent study published in JAMA Oncology found that nearly 1 in 4 GIST patients treated with Gleevec will survive 10 years.

Dr. Druker points out that one advantage to treating chronic myeloid leukemia patients with Gleevec is that most patients are diagnosed in a chronic stage of their illness:

“Our results demonstrating Gleevec’s high efficacy in CML tell us to realize the full promise of precision cancer medicine, we need to diagnose and treat patients earlier in the disease course."

Andreas Hochhaus, M.D., Richard A. Larson, M.D., François Guilhot, M.D., Jerald P. Radich, M.D., Susan Branford, Ph.D., Timothy P. Hughes, M.D., Michele Baccarani, M.D., Michael W. Deininger, M.D., Ph.D., Francisco Cervantes, M.D., Satoko Fujihara, Ph.D., Christine-Elke Ortmann, M.Sc., Hans D. Menssen, M.D., Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., Stephen G. O’Brien, M.D., Ph.D., and Brian J. Druker, M.D., for the IRIS Investigators Long-Term Outcomes of Imatinib Treatment for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia N Engl J Med 2017; 376:917-927March 9, 2017DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1609324

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