Preliminary results from the GIST trial indicate that Novartis’ Gleevec (imatinib) can help reduce the risk of stomach cancer recurrence by up to 70%.

Interim findings from a more than 600-patient study revealed that 97% of patients with Kit-positive gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) who received Gleevec for a year after surgery remained cancer-free, compared with 83% of those on placebo. Novatis has confirmed that patients who received placebo will now be offered Gleevec.

The drug was first approved in 2001 for chronic myeloid leukaemia. Diane Young, head of global medical affairs at Novartis Oncology, confirmed: “We will now work with investigators on a submission to gain regulatory approval for Gleevec in the adjuvant treatment for GIST.”

'Major breakthrough'

The results have been described as a major breakthrough that will change the way this type of cancer is treated. “Conventional chemotherapy agents have been notoriously ineffective in GIST. This study for the first time demonstrated that targeted molecular therapy reduces the rate of recurrence after complete removal of a primary Gist,” said Dr Ronald DeMatteo of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Around 5,000 gastrointestinal stromal tumours are diagnosed each year in the US, most frequently in people aged between 40 and 80 years old.