Bristol-Myers Squibb this morning launched its new anticancer offering Sprycel (dasatinib) in the UK for patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia who do not respond to Novartis’ blockbuster offering, Glivec/Gleevec (imatinib).

Professor Charles Craddock, Professor of Haemato-oncology, University of Birmingham, called it was the “first significant advance in the treatment of CML in the last five years” as Sprycel targets both the active and inactive forms of the key protein Bcr-Abl believed to be responsible for disease development, as well as protein pathways that may play a role in tumour progression. Having this multi-level action can, says B-MS, make it effective in patients who have become resistant to current therapies such as Glivec; and these numbers can be significant, it adds, with up to 29% in the chronic phase and 92% in the blast phase of the disease likely to fail on initial therapy with limited alternatives for continued treatment.

CML accounts for some 15% of all leukaemias in the UK, with around 600 new cases each year. And the medicine has also been given the thumbs up – plus coveted orphan drug status permitting market exclusivity for a 10-year period – for another form of leukaemia known as Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

Sprycel was first given the green light and launched in the USA, and is also available in Austria, Germany, France, Finland, Sweden, with further European Union roll-outs taking place in the near future.

Analysts have suggested it could achieve sales of around $500 million a year, potentially becoming a blockbuster product if its indications are expanded to include first-line treatment of leukaemia or other forms of cancer.

B-MS has said it is also testing the drug in breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers, as well as tumours of the gastrointestinal tract.