Magazine article Science News

Side Effect Revealed; Heart Risk Found in Leukemia Drug

Magazine article Science News

Side Effect Revealed; Heart Risk Found in Leukemia Drug

Article excerpt

Since its introduction a few years ago, the cancer drug imatinib has given patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia an unprecedented chance at long-term survival. But studies of the drug in people and mice reveal an unexpected risk of heart failure lurking beneath imatinib's benefits.

A research team led by Thomas Force of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia evaluated 10 patients who suffered moderate-to-severe heart failure while taking imatinib, which is marketed as Gleevec by the drug company Novartis. In all 10 patients, none of whom had had previous heart problems, their heart's blood-pumping efficiency decreased after 1 to 14 months on the drug. When the researchers examined heart tissue from two of the patients, they found cell abnormalities characteristic of heart damage.

In a second study, Force's team gave imatinib to healthy mice. After 3 weeks, those mice showed a deterioration in heart contractions, the researchers report in the August Nature Medicine. The mice received drug doses similar--adjusted for size--to those prescribed for people.

"I don't think anyone would have expected this drug to have any cardiotoxicity," says Force.

About 90 percent of chronic myelogenous leukemia patients treated with imatinib survive for 5 years or longer. Before the drug was approved in 2001, average survival was less than 5 years.

Imatinib also treats a rare stomach cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumor.

The drug stops the leukemia by inhibiting a cancer-causing two-protein combination called Ber-Abl. …

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