Novartis' Life-Changing Blockbuster Drug

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.

To watch the full interview with Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo, click here.

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  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2013, at 7:48 PM, sbirdy wrote:

    My son was diagnosed with CML as a teenager and Gleevec saved his life. When Gleevec stopped working as well for him after four years, other, stronger versions of Gleevec had come around and one of those is currently keeping him in remission.

    Don't give all the credit to Novartis. Give it to Dr. Brian Druker and the staff at Oregon Health and Science University. They developed Gleevec.

    Doctors and researchers like these people are the ones saving lives. They need more money for research. They are on the way to curing all cancer. Please donate!

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2013, at 1:10 AM, JamesShaw wrote:

    When I think about cancer, I think about the people in the world who have done the most innovative things to treat it and succeeded at it, then I look at what they're up to nowadays. Follow the doctors who succeed. No need to play guessing games. My top following is the guy who built a cancer treatment and sold it for $6.5 BILLION (Erbitux, one of the top head and neck cancer treatments today). I think he's one of the people everyone should be following when it comes to the ultimate cure for cancer. This article was very informative for me in terms of figuring out where real scientists with hundreds of millions in personal wealth are putting their time, even when they don't need to work:

    Follow the money, right? Why would someone with almost a billion dollars in personal wealth be working on this new cancer treatment? I bet this Erbitux guys believes he has found it...

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