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Leukaemia standard drug "can cure"

New trial results have revealed that a standard drug treatment may be enough to cure some leukaemia patients.

Two years after treatment was halted, a number of patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) remained completely free of the disease.

Doctors had thought that the presence of resistant stem cells in CML, a slow-growing long-term form of leukaemia, would cause the disease to return if treatment was stopped.

But the study has highlighted that at least some patients with CML can be cured using the standard treatment drug imatinib.

The tyrosine-kinase inhibitor imatinib, better known by its brand-name Glivec, works by switching off an enzyme linked to the cancer, leading to reduced levels of an abnormal protein called BCR/ABL.

In some patients, imatinib can produce complete molecular remission (CMR), marked by the protein becoming undetectable.

The Stop Imatinib study was designed to see whether CMR can continue after ending imatinib treatment.

The participants were 69 CML patients who had been in continuous remission for at least two years while undergoing treatment with imatinib.

Researchers found that CMR was maintained in 41% of patients one year after stopping treatment, and in 38% of patients for up to two years.

The scientists, led by Professor Francois-Xavier Mahon, from Victor Segalen Bordeaux University in France, reported their findings in the journal The Lancet Oncology.

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The Lancet Oncology