Every year about 12,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. There is no cure, but a new drug has shown promise for patients who've lost all hope of beating the disease.
For 73-year-old Dennis Hickey, it’s the simple things like enjoying the outdoors and taking family vacations he looks forward to.
"I can do my job, I sell houses,” said Hickey. “I can enjoy the grandkids."
Dennis has chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, a common and deadly form of adult leukemia.
"The prognosis was not good," says Dennis.
Given six months to live, Dennis got to take an experimental drug called ibrutinib as part of a clinical trial.
"We've seen a drug come into the clinic that has really helped patients with CLL and related diseases that have been at the end of their life," explains Dr. John C. Byrd, MD, D. Warren Brown Chair of Leukemia Research at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The drug works by targeting the protein in CLL cells. Without the protein, the cancer can't grow.
Doctors say 90-percent of patients have had success with ibrutinib and side effects are minimal.
"Patients tolerate it very, very well,” says Dr. Byrd. “Many patients will say they feel like they did before they had CLL."
Researchers say ibrutinib's a game changer. Dennis Hickey says it's a life saver.
"I'm still here,” said Dennis. “I look, I look back to it and say boy, I've been blessed, and I'm so thankful."
Researchers say ibrutinib is not a cure, but it can allow patients follow to manage CLL the same way they would manage diabetes or high blood pressure. The drug is expected to be approved by the FDA in early 2014.