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Story underestimated effectiveness of targeted cancer drugs

The July 28 edition of the Post Independent included an Associated Press article by Daniel Q. Hainy titled, “Despite new drugs, cancer cures illusive.” The tone of this article is to suggest that the utilization of drugs targeted at specific or biological markers in tumor cells has been a gross failure. This is not only misleading, but is highly inaccurate.

To give a few simple examples which can enlighten our lay public, the response of chronic myelogenous leukemia to the use of a drug called Gleevec has been nothing short of phenomenal. This drug has achieved complete cytogenetic responses in a high percentage of patients treated and an even higher percentage of patients treated with dose escalation. This has resulted in patients entering complete remission and having a greater survival than with previous therapy.

The use of the drug Rituxan has increased the numbers of complete remissions and the length of disease-free survival in many patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.



The drug Herceptin has been demonstrated to be highly effective in treating women with breast cancer who are over-expressors of the antigen HER 2/neu.

If there is a failure of these drugs to achieve the desired effect, it is in that the lay press has overly exaggerated the anticipated response and has been disappointed when miracle cures have not been forthcoming.



In elderly patients with lymphoma (a relatively common disease that we see and treat in our community), the disease-free survival rate at 18 months has been increased by at least 15 percent through the use of Rituxan.

A number of biologically targeted therapies are presently being developed.

The real problem remains how they are to be integrated in the overall treatment of the patient in terms of the use in combination with either chemotherapy or multiple biologically targeted agents. But there is little doubt in my mind that as the years pass we will find that combinations of such targeted therapies will have excellent effects in the management of patients with a variety of malignant diseases.

– Dr. Ira S. Jaffrey of Basalt is a practicing medical oncologist in the Roaring Fork Valley. He is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.


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