19 July 2004

Exciting and Optimistic

"I would probably be dead now were it not for the Internet."

That is how Jerry Mayfield put it when interviewed recently by Reuters about his exciting adventure.

Jerry Mayfield has been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia or CML since March 1999. CML is a slowly progressing cancer of the blood that specifically targets white blood cells or WBCs. Patients with CML are usually in the middle age group, and average age of these patients when seen in clinics is about 55 years, but it also occurs in the younger patients. Though a rare form of cancer, about 6,000 CML patients are diagnosed in the US each year. In the Philippines, about 700-1,000 Filipinos have this disease.

For CML patients to survive, the usual hope for treatment is a bone marrow transplant (BMT), but if you have no donor --- usually a family member --- and if you can not cough up money in the 6-figure range, better prepare yourself for the afterlife. Another bad news is that even if you had both, cases of non-matching siblings are very common and these patients still succumb to the disease after the transplant. The BMT also has to be performed within a year after diagnosis to prevent the cancer from spreading.

Since 2001, however, there came Novartis' Gleevec or imatinib, which is today's gold standard drug for CML. The results have been dramatic recovery for majority of patients, but 1/5th of them --- Jerry Mayfield included --- become resistant to it and relapse.

In the Philippines, one tablet of Gleevec (marketed as Glivec here) costs around P1,300 and sometimes a patient may need anywhere from 4 to 8 tablets per day. Monthly therefore, a CML patient wanting to get well needs more than P320,000 ($5,660) in order to live a bit longer.

In the Reuters' interview, Jerry said:
"When I was first diagnosed in 1999 I went to my local doctor, then went over to Shreveport to see a transplant doctor. They said a (bone marrow) transplant was my only option. I remember asking the doctor was there anything experimental out there and he looked me in the eye and said no. I went straight home and went on the Internet and immediately found a Web Site where they were discussing Gleevec. Had I not had the Internet and just took his word for it, I would probably be dead by now."
He took Gleevec, and it helped for sometime, until his cancer cells developed a mutation that allowed them to evade Gleevec's grasp.

He then enrolled in an experimental trial for the next-generation Gleevec, under Bristol-Myers Squibb, for an experimental drug known now only as BMS-354825. This new drug is designed to overcome the flaws in Gleevec, and to help people precisely like Jerry.

He wants people to know about it. So, he blogs about it.

Check it out --- Jerry's Diary.

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