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A Phase III clinical trial of imatinib (Glivec) conducted by UK researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust demonstrated increased survival in patients with advanced gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST).

Imatinib is a small-molecule targeted cancer treatment designed to specifically act on cancer proteins.

Long-term results from the trial showed that 10% of subjects suffering from advanced and aggressive GIST have survived more than ten years after treatment with imatinib.

Conducted at 56 centres in Europe and Australia, the Phase III trial enrolled 946 patients in 2001-02 to evaluate the survival benefit of 800mg of imatinib daily over the standard 400mg dose.

While overall survival benefit for the increased dose was not comparatively significant, it showed longer disease control and a small patient subgroup with a specific mutation in the gene KIT demonstrated increased survival.

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"Since our study began, a wide range of targeted therapies has become available for many different types of cancer."

The results also indicated that some patients did not develop resistance to either of the doses, upon administration for the long term to prevent disease recurrence.

ICR Personalised Oncology professor Winette van der Graaf said: “Since our study began, a wide range of targeted therapies has become available for many different types of cancer.

“Targeted cancer treatment has been a major step forward for patients, but unfortunately most drugs have only extended lives by months or a few years, because of the tendency of cancers to evolve resistance against them.

“It was remarkable to see 10% of the patients responding to imatinib for a decade without showing signs that the cancer was becoming resistant to treatment.”

 Image: Histopathologic image of gastrointestinal stromal tumour. Photo: courtesy of KGH/Wikipedia.