Patients had a big impact on the drug company’s decision to produce enough Gleevec to study a large group of people. Once patients learned about STI-571 through Internet support groups, they wrote petitions to Novartis imploring the company to make the drug.
Gangloff heard about the drug trial for STI from her first oncologist, but at the time was not eligible for the study.
“I wasn’t sick enough,” recalls Gangloff. “At that time the study was only for people who were very sick or for whom chemotherapy didn’t work.”
Gangloff started chemotherapy and began searching for a bone marrow donor. When the first round of chemotherapy failed to stabilize her blood counts, she began taking interferon. That caused severe side effects including insomnia and fatigue. She e-mailed Druker and asked to be in his study.
“After I bombarded him with e-mail, he e-mailed me back on Christmas eve to tell me I’d gotten into the study,” she recalls. “I was thrilled.”
Druker, who researched STI-571 and found that it inhibited white blood cells says, “I’m very proud of my role in the development of Gleevec. I’ve had the great privilege of seeing this drug go from the lab to benefit my patients, and I get to hear their amazing stories of recovery. This has been the greatest reward.”
Gleevec has also been used successfully to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), a form of terminal stomach cancer that no other drug has touched.
Novartis is testing Gleevec in 50 other types of cancer, Epstein says.
“Gleevec is proof of the payoff of our nation’s investment in cancer research into molecular biology and into understanding the basic science of how cancer develops,” says Dr. John J. Stevens of the American Cancer Society.
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