Gleevec has helped some chronic myeloid leukemia patients remain cancer-free: are they cured?

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The results of an interim clinical trial testing the efficacy of Novartis’ Gleevec (imatinib) indicate that chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients who have taken the drug for at least two years and are free of leukemia cells can discontinue treatment and expect to remain in complete remission. The small clinical trial, publicized in The Lancet Oncology, followed 69 CML patients who had taken Gleevec and achieved remission for at least two years. After one year, 41 percent of these patients were cancer-free, while 38 percent were still clear of CML after two years. However, researchers told Business Week that only about 10 percent of CML patients on Gleevec could actually expect sustained remission. Gleevec works by inhibiting the tyrosine kinase pathway, which is thought to play a role in the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells.

Based on these results, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross believes Gleevec may offer hope for CML patients. “This is the first intimation that we might actually be able to cure CML with medication.”