Continuing Avastin use in some colorectal cancer treatments extends life

A large clinical study of Avastin supports what doctors in the U.S. have already internalized: In colorectal cancer patients whose condition worsens, changing up chemotherapy but continuing treatment with Roche's ($RHHBY) pricy cancer drug provides some improvement in survival time.

Avastin is approved as a first-line or second-line treatment for colorectal cancer, but not both, Reuters points out. But at briefing at ASCO where the results were released, one of the researchers, Dr. Dirk Arnold, claimed many doctors in the U.S. are already continuing treatment with Avastin. Those results, released at ASCO, may give the drug a boost in Europe and other countries where Avastin is only used as a first-line treatment, reports Ecancer News

In the colorectal cancer study, patients continuing on Avastin had a median survival rate of 11.2 months, compared with 9.8 months for those getting chemotherapy-alone group. Roche's Genentech, which developed Avastin, also issued a release showing the results of a Phase III study indicating that women with recurrent, platinum-resistant ovarian cancer who received Avastin in combination with chemotherapy had a median progression-free survival (PFS) of 6.7 months compared to 3.4 months for those getting only chemo.

For expensive drugs like Avastin, there are some questions--at least among payers like governments in Europe--about whether modest improvements justify the added costs. Of course, the families of most patients believe they do, but they often are not footing the bill. Sales of the pricey drug last year were $5.3 billion Swiss francs ($5.5 billion).

Avastin is an antibody that blocks vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, a protein required by tumors to develop blood vessels. It is approved in the U.S. for treating glioblastoma, lung and kidney cancers, as well as colorectal cancer, Reuters says. But speaking of the colorectal study, Arnold said the finding may lead to research in other cancers that respond to a combination of Avastin and chemotherapy to determine if survival rates also increase. 

- read the Reuters story
- get more from Ecancer News
- still more from MedPage Today
- check out the Roche release on the colorectal cancer study
- here's the Genentech release on Avastin treatment for ovarian cancer