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New leukaemia drugs to replace Glivec

New drugs from BMS and Novartis help leukaemia patients remain cancer-free for a year and could replace the gold standard Glivec

Recent clinical data has shown that new drugs from US-based Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and Swiss-headquartered Novartis have helped leukaemia patients remain cancer-free for a year and could replace the gold standard treatment, Glivec (imatinib).

BMS' Sprycel (dasatinib) eliminated chronic myelogenous leukaemia all 24 patients for one year, according to research presented at the American Society of Haematology meeting on 10 December.

At the same time, Novartis' Tasigna (nilotinib) achieved the same goal for all 11 patients in a separate trial. Both treatments are approved for the 10 to 15 per cent of CML patients who relapse or are resistant to Novartis' Glivec.

The September 2007 studies did not directly compare the new treatments to Glivec, but earlier trials suggested that after one year, the drug could eliminate leukaemia in the blood for 65 per cent of patients at the recommended dose, and 86 per cent at a higher dose.

In a press statement, lead author of both studies, Jorge Cortes, a leukaemia specialist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said: "These are early results, but certainly encouraging so far in both cases."

Novartis shares rose EUR 0.60 to reach EUR 64.80 in Zurich trading on 7 December, while BMS' shares increased USD 0.15 to reach USD 29.23 in NYSE trading on the same day. 

Glivec, or Gleevec as it is known in the US, racked up FY06 sales of USD 2.5bn, according to a Novartis FY06 annual report. The treatment made up approximately 6.7 per cent of the company's total revenue of USD 37bn.

Both BMS and Novartis plan to complete the Glivec comparison trials and submit the results to regulators in 2010. According to Novartis, diagnostic tests have suggested that Tasigna may just have the edge over Sprycel.

10th December 2007

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