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HealthWatch: Experimental Drug Turns Off Leukemia Cells

HealthWatch: Experimental Drug Turns Off Leukemia Cells

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Medical experts say every year about 12,000 patients in the United States are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but a new drug has shown promise for patients who have lost all hope of beating the disease.

It's the simple things, like enjoying the outdoors and taking family vacations that 73 year old Dennis Hickey can look forward to once again.

"I'm very fortunate, I'm excited about life. I can do my job, I sell houses, I can enjoy the grandkids," said Hickey.

Hickey has chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, a common and deadly form of leukemia affecting older adults.

"The prognosis was not good, but I was going to see it through no matter what," Hickey said.

With six months to live, Hickey got to take an experimental drug called Ibrutinib as part of a clinical trial for CLL patients. John Byrd, MD, and professor of medicine at the Ohio State University, co-led the study.

"We have seen a drug come into the clinic that has really helped patients with CLL and related diseases that have been at the end of their life," Dr. Byrd explained.

The drug works by targeting the protein in CLL cells. Without the protein, the cancer can't grow. Doctors say 90 percent of patients have had success with Ibrutinib and side effects are minimal compared to chemotherapy.

"The patients tolerate it very, very well. Many patients say they feel like they did before they had CLL," Dr. Byrd said.

Researchers say Ibrutinib is a game-changer. Hickey says it's a life-saver.

"I'm still here and I'm so thankful," Hickey said.

Researchers say Ibrutinib is not a cure, but if patients follow treatment, they can manage CLL the same way they would manage diabetes or high blood pressure.

The drug is expected to be approved by the FDA in early 2014.

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