Avastin improves outcomes for cervical cancer but flunks first-line brain cancer test

CHICAGO--Roche ($RHHBY) took two steps forward and one step back on the Avastin front today, as investigators laid out a clear advantage in adding the therapy to chemo for cervical cancer while finding no survival advantage when adding it to first-line treatment of an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Focusing on women with metastatic or relapsed cervical cancer, investigators found that adding Avastin to chemo boosted the overall median survival rate to 17 months from 13.3 months for the chemo-only group. They also found that the combo approach spurred a higher rate of tumor shrinkage; 48% to 36%, with more durable response rates seen for Avastin, an anti-angiogenesis pioneer that targets VEGF-A. 

"This is really a triple header," said lead investigator Krishnansu Sujata Tewari, with advantages seen in OS, PFS and the response rate.

The research was highlighted at ASCO on Sunday morning, with ASCO expert Carol Aghajanian noting that "treatment options for women with recurrent or advanced disease have been insufficient for far too long."

Avastin has already been approved for a number of cancers, including recurrent glioblastoma. But M.D. Anderson's Mark Gilbert told reporters at ASCO that adding it to chemo for first-line treatment not only produced a reduced rate of overall survival, it also triggered an increase in side effects for patients.

Overall survival was 16.1 months in the standard care arm and 15.7 months for the Avastin group. Patients receiving Avastin also suffered from low platelet counts, blood clots and high blood pressure.

Avastin "remains an important part of our armory against glioblastoma, but in most situations it should be reserved as a salvage regimen," says Gilbert.

- here's the press release cervical cancer
- read the release on glioblastoma

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