Imatinib is used to treat numerous cancerous malignancies including chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). CML is a type of cancer of the blood cells that usually progresses more slowly than acute leukemia. GISTs are tumors that usually begin in cells in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract.
Gleevec, which is marketed by Novartis, is one of a new type of cancer drugs created to fight cancer by disabling an enzyme that causes cells to become cancerous and multiply. The widely touted "miracle" cancer drug generated $1.2 billion in revenue in just the first half of 2006.
But even prior to its financially successful launch, warning signs had begun to surface that Gleevec, along with other of the new generation of cancer drugs that act on specific targets in the cancer cell, could be dangerous to the heart. After ten patients with CML developed severe congestive heart failure while taking Gleevec, a team of scientists at the Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University tested Gleevec in mice and in lab dishes, both of which showed the drug to be toxic to cardiac cells. The results were published as early as July 23, 2006, in an online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.
Other possible serious side effects that have been identified include liver problems, edema (severe fluid retention), and hemorrhage (bleeding), especially in the elderly. Less serious, more commonly reported side effects include:
- Muscle cramps
- Skin rash
Then as recently as June 2008, a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported a possible new side effect associated with Gleevec. In it, a case study suggests that imatinib may cause severe rhabdomyolysis in a small number of patients. Rhabdomyolysis is an acute, potentially fatal disease with sudden onset that destroys skeletal muscle. It is often accompanied by the release of myoglobin, a protein that supplies oxygen to the muscle during strenuous exercise, in the urine. Earlier in 2008, another case report suggested that the drug could disrupt ovarian function and impair fertility.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of taking Gleevec, you may be entitled to compensation. A qualified pharmaceutical injury attorney can apprise you with regard to your rights and any applicable time limits by which, by law, you may be required to file your claim.