Depressing scenario: You have cancer. You get the best high-tech drug. The drug gives you a heart attack.
It's increasingly apparent that some of our most-lauded new oncology agents carry pretty serious baggage. Take Sutent, a Pfizer drug that's one of the tyrosine kinase inhibitors that target signaling molecules inside cancer cells. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that it pushed blood pressure up by 15 to 25 percent in some kidney-cancer patients; last month, The Lancet published research indicating that stomach cancer patients using Sutent were more likely to develop heart failure, hypertension, and even heart attack.
Sutent isn't alone. Novartis' Gleevec was linked last year to heart failure in leukemia patients. Another new study, this time of Bristol-Myers Squibb's leukemia drug Sprycel, showed that one-quarter of patients had to stop treatment because of lung problems.
Of course, cancer has its own side effects, and these drugs are popular because they're effective against the disease. Plus, researchers say that most of the side effects can be managed; in Sutent's case, blood pressure drugs and other cardiac treatments are in order. But patients and doctors have to be on the lookout. And this is why drug makers have to be up front about adverse events--and why post-marketing research is always a good idea.
Sutent tops kidney-cancer drug scrips. Report
FDA approves Pfizer's Sutent for cancer. Report
Re-engineered Gleevec eliminates a side effect. Report
Researchers say Gleevec linked to heart damage. Report
FDA committee recommends Sprycel for leukemia. Report