Good news for leukaemia: Pills ‘cure’ could enable patients to discontinue treatment

Some leukaemia patients may be effectively cured by taking modern cancer pills, giving a small minority of patients the option of discontinuing treatment, French researchers say.

It had been thought that chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) would inevitably return if treatment with drugs such as Novartis’s Glivec, or imatinib, was discontinued.

But an interim analysis of a small French clinical study published in the Lancet Oncology journal found certain CML patients were able to survive without relapse for up to two years after ending therapy.

So-called tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs like Glivec, which was introduced in 2001, have transformed the treatment of CML but cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Medical experts have been interested in investigating the idea of stopping treatment, rather than continuing indefinitely as is current standard practice, following evidence of diminishing rates of progression in certain patients.

The French study found that of 69 patients who had done well on Glivec for at least two years and then stopped taking it, 41 percent remained in complete molecular remission (CMR) after one year and 38 percent were clear for up to two years.

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