Gleevec: A 'Miracle Drug' for Some Patients With Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Gleevec was approved by the FDA in 2001. The groundbreaking oral drug has since been a lifesaver for many patients with chronic myeloid leukemia.

In 1995, Mel Mann visited his primary doctor in Michigan for back pain and slight fatigue. Results from an MRI showed irregularities in his bone marrow. “They ended up taking a simple blood test and they saw that my white (blood cell) count was elevated to 132,000 where it should have been below 10,000,” Mann explained in an interview with CURE®. Soon after, he received a diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and was given three years to live.

He was 37 years old.

After being told that a bone marrow transplant was his best chance at a longer life, Mann visited several donor drives to tell his story and, hopefully, find a match. Another patient with leukemia told him about The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. A quick phone call got Mann an appointment, which led to an increased dose of the standard of care at that time — interferon therapy, in which proteins that mimic those naturally made by the immune system are given to reduce the growth and division of leukemia cells — and, eventually, enrollment in the phase 1 clinical trial for Gleevec (imatinib mesylate).

“I was really curious ... How could this pill do what (a bone marrow) operation did?” he remembered. “They (were) telling me that it was a targeted drug, and it was only going to go for the bad cells and ... leave the good cells alone, and that that in itself was a miraculous thing.”

Nearly 27 years later, Mann is known as the longest-living survivor treated with Gleevec.

In 2001, three years after the clinical trial, Gleevec was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This year marks its 20th anniversary.

“It (was) really a lifesaver,” Mann said. “It’s a miracle drug.”

Here, CURE® looks back with a timeline of the groundbreaking drug, along with Mann’s journey.

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