Glivec, the first targeted cancer drug, which is used to treat leukemia, also works for patients suffering from a rare form of skin cancer, an Australian researcher said on Wednesday.
Dr. Grant McArthur, of the Peter McCallum Cancer Center in Melbourne, told a European oncology meeting that the drug developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis benefited patients suffering from dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans.
In a small international study, researchers treated 10 patients with DFSP. Eight had a tumor that was localized in one area but was not suitable for surgery.
“Every one of these patients responded to the treatment,” McArthur told journalists in a telephone news conference from the Geneva meeting. “All eight patients were able to be made free of cancer.”
The drug either reduced the tumor so it could be surgically removed or made it completely disappear. Of the other two patients, one, whose tumor had spread beyond the original site, also showed improvement. The other, who did not respond to the treatment, did not have a specific genetic change associated with the illness.
DFSP is a slow growing cancer that invades the skin very deeply, which makes complete surgical removal difficult. It accounts for less than one percent of cancers.
The cancer is characterized by two genes that are joined together between chromosome 17 and 22 which produce a protein. Glivec turns off the activity of the protein.
The drug, known chemically as imatinib, was developed to treat chronic myeloid leukemia.
“We concluded that molecular tests on tissue from the cancer can predict response to Glivec,” said McArthur.
“This has important implications for other types of cancer, in that molecular tests in the future may lead to other new treatments being applied to rare tumors or sub-sets of more common tumors to treat individual patients.”
Glivec, which is sold in the United States under the name Gleveec, has been hailed as a breakthrough in cancer treatment because it offers new hope to patients with specific types of tumors while avoiding the severe side effects seen with conventional chemotherapy.
Targeted therapy, tailored to individual patients, is seen as the future for cancer therapy because the disease is caused by different genetic defects. A drug that works for one patient may have no effect on another because the underlying causes are not the same.