Cancer Drug Gleevec Shows Potential for Treatment of RA

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • New research shows that Gleevec, a cancer drug used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia (CLL) and certain types of stomach tumors, also has potential as a treatment for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Stanford University researchers published their findings online Sept. 14 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The study will be published in the October print edition of the journal.
    It is currently estimated that 50 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients do not adequately respond to current therapies. The researchers conducted the study after finding two case reports showing that rheumatoid arthritis symptoms significantly improved in patients who received Gleevec (imatinib) as part of their cancer treatment.
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    The researchers tested the drug in a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis comparing healthy mice with mice that had developed a disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis called collagen-induced arthritis. The results showed that Gleevec almost completely prevented the development of collagen-induced arthritis in healthy mice. The drug also inhibited disease progression and significantly reduced levels of bone destruction, inflammation, and tumor-like growth in and around the linings of joints. The researchers acknowledged that the results are limited because it was an animal study, not a human study and the mice had a different form of arthritis than RA.
    When tested on the joint tissue of human arthritis suffers, they found that the drug also inhibited the production of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFa), stopping inflammation. It also stopped the growth of fibroblasts, the cells that cause tumor-like growth in joint. The researchers suggested that lower doses of Gleevec, which is administered in pill form, might help people with autoimmune diseases with fewer side effects than regular doses for cancer patients.
    In an open-label trial of Gleevec, two rheumatoid-arthritis patients showed significant improvement, while a third patient showed only mild improvement. However, the researchers qualified the finding by suggesting that the results may have been skewed by a placebo effect, since the patients knew that they were receiving an experimental treatment. The researchers recommended that a multi-center, placebo-controlled randomized, double-blinded trial should be conducted to study the effects of Gleevec on other autoimmune diseases as well because several types of cells involved in RA are also involved in other autoimmune disorders such as scleroderma, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Published On: September 19, 2006