Jennifer Gangloff is thrilled that the Food and Drug Administration quickly approved Gleevec, the drug she’s been taking to fight chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Now she wonders how she and others with the disease will pay for it.
Gangloff, of Waterbury, Conn., received Gleevec through a study done by Dr. Brian Druker at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Until the approval, she was getting the drug for free.
“I will have to go through my insurance company to get Gleevec,” Gangloff says. “If you had to pay for it out of pocket, it would cost $30,000 a year. A patient assistance program has been set up to help people pay for the drug, but sometimes it’s difficult for people to get the information they need.”
To fill that need, Gangloff, a journalist for a financial services company, started a C.M.L. Web site when she was first diagnosed in March 2000. The site provides definitions of C.M.L., stories from those living with C.M.L. and links to other helpful sites. It also has useful tips — for example, a reminder for people not to drink grapefruit juice if they are taking Gleevec.
Some in the cancer community are calling Gleevec “revolutionary” and the first drug that offers real hope for prolonging the lives of people with C.M.L., a cancer of the bone marrow. It’s too soon to tell whether it will actually cure the disease.
C.M.L. is caused by an acquired genetic abnormality that signals white blood cells to divide too rapidly. The average survival rate is six years after diagnosis.
Gleevec works by targeting only the enzymes in the body that allow the cancerous cells to grow, and it doesn’t affect the normal cells. It’s been tested in 5,000 patients in 30 countries, says a spokeswoman for Novartis, the maker of the drug. It is in pill form that most patients take once a day (some people on a higher dose take it twice a day).
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