Off Beat: Cancer-fighting drug gets secondhand name, first-rate results

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A recent Columbian story featuring local cancer survivor LaDonna Lopossa noted the 10th anniversary of FDA approval of the cancer-fighting drug Gleevec.

The medication didn’t even have a name when co-developer Dr. Brian Druker invited the Battle Ground woman into a drug trial at Oregon Health & Science University.

The drug worked so well that it broke all records for racing from clinical trials to the pharmacy shelf. Which meant that the treatment known only as STI571 needed a marketable name in a hurry.

In another story about Gleevec a few years ago, Druker told The Columbian how drug manufacturer Novartis came up with something to fill that blank spot on the label.

“It takes two or three years for a drug to get a name,” said Druker, director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

“The clinical trials proceed slowly enough that they can do focus groups on names.

“Only about one drug in 10 succeeds in the clinical trial process,” Druker continued. “So, 10 compounds get named, but only one makes it to market.

“Novartis went to the bank of names that had failed,” the OHSU cancer researcher said. “Gleevec was the name of a drug that had failed in clinical trials, and they gave it to this compound.”

The first drug to carry the Gleevec name had been formulated to fight a type of brain tumor called glioblastoma.

“That,” Druker explained, “is where the ‘glee’ part of the name came from.”

Marching orders

Two major processions took place Saturday morning in Hazel Dell, and Judy Hoffman made sure they went in opposite directions.

Hoffman was one of the coordinators of a Washington/Oregon motorcycle ride that started at Columbia Harley-Davidson in Hazel Dell. That’s just a bit north of where the annual Hazel Dell Parade of Bands was taking place.

And as Hoffman helped set up the motorcycle ride, she definitely was aware of the Parade of Bands: She’s marched in it.

The 1985 Fort Vancouver High School grad recalled marching south when it was time for the Trapper band to hit the parade route. But the former Trapper clarinet player didn’t want to assume anything.

“I called to make sure the parade was going the same way as when I was in it.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.