Activist patients join Genentech's Avastin campaign

Genentech has a small army of Avastin supporters as it prepares to defend the drug at an FDA hearing. Not only has the Roche-owned company hired Washington lawyers and lobbyists--as well as a noted public relations firm--it has the earnest support of patients and their families, who want to see Avastin remain an approved treatment for breast cancer.

In fact, as the Wall Street Journal reports, at least one volunteer has taken a leave of absence from work to run a social-media campaign supporting the drug. Terry Kalley, who says Avastin saved his wife's life, set up a foundation and Facebook page to raise awareness and posted a seven-minute animated video on YouTube. Genentech says Kalley is working on his own; however, company reps will meet with him in Washington next week.

The FDA wants to pull Avastin's approval for breast cancer treatment, saying new data shows the drug's impact on the disease is limited--at least on average. Approved under the agency's fast-track program, the drug's required follow-up studies show Avastin only delays tumor regrowth by about two months. Furthermore, the drug can cause severe side effects.

The agency immediately found itself under fire after announcing that decision, with patients, doctors and politicians alike crying foul. However, some patient advocacy groups and doctors supported the FDA's choice. Now, thousands of patients have called and written Congress and the agency to plea for the FDA's continued blessing on Avastin as a breast cancer treatment, the WSJ says. The hearing is set for June.

- read the WSJ piece