Repurposed drug gives woman with cancer the gift of life

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby



A Northwest Indiana woman told she may never get pregnant again after being diagnosed with cancer is beating the odds. She says it’s all thanks to the ongoing research of drug repurposing to treat diseases with no cure. In this case, she calls it a miracle drug.

While pregnant with her first child, Karrie was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer.

“It’s the whole terrifying process of being diagnosed with a cancer,” said Karrie Schwartz who was diagnosed with polycythemia vera.

Karrie opted not to have chemotherapy which would’ve ended her hopes of having another baby. The couple from Munster, Indiana, was determined to find another way.

“This is a disease that’s progressive so you don’t want to leave it untreated for the better part of the year,” said John Twohy, Karrie’s husband.

Thirty miles away at Rush University Medical Center they found their answer. Dr. Jamile Shammo, a hematology specialist who knew of an alternative treatment, using the drug interferon, FDA-approved for hepatitis, off-label or repurposed.

“At that time, there was some evidence to suggest that patients who do get treated that way actually do pretty well,” said Rush University Medical Center Hematologist Dr. Jamile Shammo.

And it was safe for pregnancy…

“They can control the symptoms, control the blood count and reduce the tumor burden,” said Dr. Shammo.

Drug repurposing is using existing FDA-approved medicine for new or rare diseases with no cure. It’s an effort supported globally by Chicago-based Cures Within Reach.

“As a philanthropic nonprofit, we’re investing in these treatment opportunities where often there’s not a commercial value,” said Barbara Goodman of Cures Within Reach.

About a year after being on Interferon, Karrie gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Her son now has a sibling. John is 10 and Astrid just turned seven.

The family is grateful for what Karrie calls a miracle drug.

“How do you thank someone for that? It’s incredibly, incredibly amazing,” Karrie said. “I can never repay what they’ve given me and my family.”

Karrie is doing great. Her cancer is under control. But if it wasn’t for the research, going on locally and globally, on repurposing existing drugs, she says her life would not be the same.

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