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Building on basics

Molecular medicine

A new generation of anti-cancer drugs offers many patients a second lease on life. But the drugs aren’t available everywhere.

Two Octobers ago Bill Gilson, 58, was given only a few months to live. The Sacramento commercial real estate broker had been battling an untreatable form of lung cancer for almost a year. Now the cancer was winning. At home in Stockton, he and his wife of 26 years made plans for their last Thanksgiving together.

But first the desperately ill man consulted David Gandara, associate director for clinical research at UC Davis Cancer Center and a top lung cancer specialist. Gandara suggested a long shot — an experimental drug, Iressa, that had reportedly helped two patients in other cities. With little to lose, Gilson agreed to participate in a clinical trial of the drug.

The gamble saved Gilson’s life. Within weeks, tumors began evaporating from his lungs. Today, cancer-free, he plays tennis and golf when he’s not working full-time, and has enough energy left over to help wife Jackie run a rescue operation for abandoned Labrador retrievers.

If Iressa continues to demonstrate safety and effectiveness in clinical trials, it may soon earn U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. If so, any doctor in the country will be able to prescribe it. But the drug was available first at a select group of cancer research centers, and to the patients who found their way to them.


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Supporting Cancer Center
UC Davis Cancer CenterUC Davis Health System

Bill Gilson (shown with Moose) is alive today thanks to a clinical trial at UC Davis Cancer Center.