Researchers report promising results with leukemia treatment
ATLANTA (CNN) -- A treatment designed to kill cancer cells and not harm healthy tissues, as conventional chemotherapy often does, shows strong promise in tests for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia, scientists announced at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"What's been so dramatic about this new treatment is that it's a pill people take daily. We're restoring the patients to very good health," said Dr. Brian Druker, associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University.
The drug, called STI-571, targets the white blood cells of patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). According to the Oregon Cancer Center Leukemia Program, where Druker conducts his research, less than 20 percent of patients with CML are cured with current therapies.
In the tests Druker and his associates conducted, 19 of 29 patients responded positively to the therapy -- meaning their bone-marrow cell abnormalities were reduced to 15 percent or less.
The apparent lack of adverse side effects is another encouraging aspect of STI-571, said a leukemia patient participating in the research.
"I started the middle of December," said Sarah Jean Walker of Rome, Georgia, "and I feel fine, like nothing’s wrong and no side effects to speak of, and it’s just wonderful."
By the third month, her bone-marrow cells were normal, she said, "No signs of the CML."
Those results are not unusual. Researchers reported in December that of 31 patients, all had a complete normalization of their blood counts, signaling remission. Six months later, the patients continued to do well.
Also reported at the oncology meeting were developments from clinical trials of ZD-1839, a treatment similar to the leukemia drug. Researchers have seen encouraging results in 16 patients with non-small cell lung cancer.
"ZD-1839 is a very promising drug," said Dr. Vincent Miller of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "It’s rare that we see responses in Phase 1 trials, but we've seen that with the drug."
"I've had considerable shrinkage of the tumor," said study participant Peggy Herber, "and I've had a quality of life that's been fine so far, so I keep hoping it continues."
Miller said the new drug is "not a cure-all, not a magic bullet." But, he added, it offers "a kinder, gentler therapy that may improve the outcome of our patients."
Researchers said this new targeted cancer therapy may work even better when combined with existing cancer treatments. Studies on that are already underway.
CNN Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.