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Pfizer's Sutent causes heart failure in some: study

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February 13, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fifteen percent of patients who took Sutent, a pill used to treat kidney and stomach cancers, developed heart failure, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday.

The study, presented at a meeting of cancer specialists, confirmed other studies that suggest the drug causes the risky but reversible side-effect.

Sutent, made under the generic name sunitinib by Pfizer, has also been shown to damage heart cells.

"Our data demonstrate the need for routine cardiac monitoring in patients receiving sunitinib," said Dr. Melinda Telli of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

"Cardiac adverse effects need to be carefully examined in future trials of sunitinib to determine the factors that place patients at risk for this complication. That information will allow us to administer this medication more safely to patients for whom the benefits of treatment clearly outweigh the risks."

While heart failure is serious, it can be treated with a variety of drugs. When caused by drugs, stopping the medication usually clears up the problem.

Her team studied 48 patients with kidney cancer or gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) who got Sutent. Seven of them, or 15 percent, experienced heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood properly, she told the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.

Sutent works by starving tumors -- it stops them from growing blood vessels to feed themselves. It is being widely tested for the treatment of several other cancers.

In December, researchers reported in the medical journal Lancet that half of 75 patients with GIST who took the drug in a clinical trial developed high blood pressure, 8 percent developed heart failure, and two had heart attacks.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox)

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