For many years, chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML, was a diagnosis that both doctors and patients could do little about. The commonly prescribed course of treatment involved interferon, a drug that has terrible side effects and proved to be ineffective for this indication. However, the revolutionary discovery of the BCR-Abl gene and Novartis' (NYSE: NVS ) Gleevec completely changed the way CML is treated today.
In the following video, Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo, author of the book A World Without Cancer, and Motley Fool analyst Max Macaluso discuss Gleevec's success and why other types of cancers have been more difficult to treat. A transcript is provided below the video.
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Max Macaluso: Let's shift the conversation from prevention to treatment. Your book does talk about some major successes in medicine, in the treatment of cancer. One in particular is Novartis' Gleevec. This is a treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia.
What I was wondering, reading your book, was why haven't we been able to replicate the success of Gleevec and chronic myeloid leukemia with other types of cancer, namely solid tumors?
Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo: That's a very astute question. Chronic myeloid or myelogenous leukemia, CML, is based on a single genetic mutation. This terrible disease is actually a very simple disease, unlike breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer -- these more common cancers -- which are several orders of magnitude more complicated than that.
Therefore, Gleevec can attack CML and effectively cure it because it's a very simple disease. Breast, prostate, lung cancer, are all much more complicated and it's not as easy to treat them with a single chemotherapeutic agent or a monoclonal antibody, and that's what Gleevec is.
Editor's note: At 1:10, the speaker meant to say BCR-Abl inhibitor instead of monoclonal antibody. The Fool regrets the error.