Researchers: Pill has potential to destroy leukemia
The drug, STI-571, specifically targets an enzyme found only in leukemia cells
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- An experimental cancer pill designed to combat chronic myelogenous leukemia, a common form of the adult cancer, has produced dramatic results in clinical trials and may have the potential to destroy most cancers, researchers reported Friday.
The findings are being presented in New Orleans, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.
In a study of 37 patients treated with the drug, code-named STI-571, all of them had complete normalization of their blood counts, signaling a remission of their leukemia.
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Unlike traditional, toxic chemotherapy remedies, which kill both cancerous and healthy cells, STI-571 specifically targets an enzyme found only in leukemia cells, meaning patients suffer minimal side effects.
In fighting chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), the drug attacks the common adult cancer by altering abnormal cell structure and reducing the white blood cell count.
In the experiment, CML patients with early stages of the disease who failed to respond to traditional interferon treatment received STI-571 in pill form once a day.
Patients experienced little or no toxicity, and most of those receiving doses at 200 mg or higher had white blood counts come down to normal.
'Literally given me my life back'
Leukemia patient Virginia Garner, who was dying from leukemia just months ago and did not respond to interferon, is enthusiastic about the experimental drug. "(It) has no side effects whatsoever. It's literally given me my life back," she told CNN.
CML most often occurs among middle-aged men and women. In the chronic phase, usually
from three to five years, patients have a high white blood cell count, but generally have few symptoms.
Garner says the experimental drug has had no side effects for her
Later, the disease advances to the accelerated phase, characterized by rapid white blood cell growth. The end stage of the disease, known as the blast crisis, can be fatal within several months.
Some experts think the new approach could work for other cancers as well.
Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.
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