Watch CBSN Live

Leukemia Pill Approved

There's a remarkable new treatment for one type of leukemia, and it could open up a new line of attack on other cancers as well.

The FDA today approved this unique drug. It stops cancer with a pill and has few side effects. CBS's Sharyl Attkisson has the facts on Gleevec and the hopes for the future.

The FDA approved the orange cancer pill in world-record time--just 2_ months--to treat a rare form of leukemia called CML. And scientists hope Gleevec will eventually do much more.

"This is a very good day in our struggle against cancer," says Dr. Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Brian Druker conducted the first Gleevec tests on humans and found remarkable results.

"We understood what drives the growth of a particular kind of leukemia, and we've targeted a drug to completely shut down this abnormality." Says Druker, who is director of the Oregon Cancer Institute's leukemia center at Oregon Health Sciences University.

What's so special about Gleevec is its precision: It attacks only the cancer, not the person.

A genetic malfunction in CML patients causes an abnormal protein to trigger wild growth of white blood cells, causing leukemia. Gleevec, taken once a day, turns off the protein like shutting off a light switch--with few of the serious side effects patients suffer from treatment with radiation and chemotherapy.

In clinical tests, white blood cell counts for most chronic patients returned to normal within weeks. In half, the genetic mutation that caused their disease . . . disappeared.

"In that 3-month time, I went from being having a hard time even getting out of bed some days to going back to work full-time," says Suzanne Dreger, a Gleevec recipient.

But the best thing about Gleevec is that it could be effective against other forms of cancer: prostate, brain, lung, breast, and abdominal cancer. Other studies are already underway, including one Bernie Kaplan is in. He has a type of gastrointestinal cancer called GIST that's resisted all other treatments. Gleevec shrank his tumor almost instantly.

"I'm feeling very well. I feel like a walking miracle," says Kaplan.

Gleevec will cost patients $2,000 a month or more--about the same as traditional treatments. But in an unusual move, the drug maker Novartis will give it away free to uninsured people making less than around $40,000 a year, and sell it to many others who do not have insurance to pay for it on a sliding scale. It'll be in US pharmacies in about a week.

©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue