Animal studies have already contributed to the development of a drug that has been described by some as “the vanguard in a new generation of cancer drugs.” Gleevec, a chemotherapy that works by inhibiting a protein that contributes to cancer cell growth, is the first effective treatment for people with chronic myeloid leukemia. Gleevec was developed using cell cultures and mouse studies. Like the research programs devoted to developing a malaria vaccine and treatments for epilepsy and heart disease, cancer research requires the use of many different models. Cell and tissue culture, whole animal models, and clinical (human) studies help scientists better understand both the cause of various diseases and better ways to prevent, treat, and possibly cure them. All of these methods were used in the development of Gleevec. In order to develop a new drug to treat a disease, it is necessary to make use of all of these models. Culture, animal, and human studies each play an important role in the struggle to understand disease and develop cures.
GLEEVEC—A drug that is highly effective in treating chronic myeloid leukemia. Although it took more than a decade of laboratory work to develop Gleevec, the drug gained FDA approval in less than 3 years. Typically, it takes 14 years to win FDA approval by proving that a new drug is safe and effect through clinical trials. Novartis, the pharmaceutical company that developed Gleevec, reports that it spent between $350 million and $500 million from 1985 to the time the drug was approved by the FDA in May 2001. On the basis of promising animal and human studies, the FDA accelerated the review process and approved Gleevec after only 32 months. There is no other safer effective treatment for people with chronic myeloid leukemia, one of the reasons why the FDA’s review of Gleevec was the fastest ever recorded for an anticancer drug in the United States.
CHEMOTHERAPY—Treatment of a disease with a chemical that has a toxic effect on cancerous tissue (anticancer therapy) or on a disease-producing germ (antibiotic).
CANCER—an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in any part of the body.
People sometimes wonder why such research remains necessary. The answer is simple. Though many formerly lethal infectious diseases (such as smallpox and polio) have been controlled, people’s lives are still threatened by bioterrorism, emerging diseases, (AIDS, Ebola, and West Nile), and other still uncured diseases like malaria. Malaria, for example, kills more people each year than AIDS, and the search for an effective vaccine against this ancient adversary continues. Chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and depression, which are debilitating and emotionally devastating for patients and their families, comprise another important area of study. Epilepsy, a neurological condition that most often appears in late childhood or early adolescence, continues to wreak havoc on the lives of millions of Americans, and currently available medications may only partially control seizures while causing serious side effects. Finally, scientific understanding of the way that genes, environment, and behavior interact to create diseases like cancer, obesity, and drug addiction remains inadequate, as does current treatment, which often falls far short of a cure. diseases
HYPERTENSION—High blood pressure