A new drug used to treat symptoms of a life-threatening bone marrow cancer has also been found to extend the lives of patients who take it.
A new study, published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, found clinical trials of the drug ruxolitinib -- trade name: Jakafi -- significantly boosted the survival rates of patients with a condition known as myelofibrosis.
Researchers tracked 309 patients at 89 centers in the United States, Australia and Canada. About half received ruxolitinib; others received an inactive placebo.
After 51 weeks, there were 13 deaths in the ruxolitinib group, compared with 24 in the placebo group.
"This phase III study indicates that the drug extends survival in a patient population that has lacked effective treatments," said lead researcher Dr. Srdan Verstovsek, M.D., with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Leukemia.
Patients who received ruxolitinib also experienced relief from fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain, severe itching, night sweats and bone pain. They were more likely to have the drug shrink their swollen spleens, a hallmark of the disease tied to many of the symptoms.
Myelofibrosis is caused by malignant bone marrow cells that trigger an inflammatory response, scarring the bone marrow and limiting its ability to produce blood, resulting in anemia. About 3,000 new cases of myelofibrosis are diagnosed in the United States each year. Average survival ranges from two to 11 years.
Last November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved ruxolitinib, produced by Incyte Corporation, for people with intermediate or high-risk myelofibrosis. It was the first drug approved for myelofibrosis.