Avastin-maker Genentech’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Arthur Levinson, Ph.D., said in a press release, ”Today marks an important shift in the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer, with the approval of an innovative treatment based on elegant science that targets cancer in an entirely new way.”
The drug, meant to be used in conjunction with chemotherapy, can only extend the lives of patients with advanced colon cancer by roughly five months. But it is the first of its kind that uses a new theory in fighting cancer. Avastin shuts down angiogenesis — the ability of tumors to form blood vessels and metastasize. This effectively starves them of blood and oxygen.
The strategy has been used before: in 1998 Harvard researcher Dr. Judah Folkman used the approach to cure mice of cancer. But the process could not be duplicated in humans.
After failed attempts to apply the drug to breast cancer, Avastin’s company, Genetech Inc. began testing it on colon cancer patients. In a study of 800 people, Avastin delayed the growth of tumors and patients taking the drug lived an average of five months longer.
“The approval of Avastin is the result of many years of research and development, exploring a promising new approach to fighting cancer,” said FDA commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan in a prepared statement.
Avastin binds to vascular endothelial growth fact (VEGF), one of the more than 20 chemicals known to help tumors’ blood vessels grow. Once the VEGF is blocked, so is the tumor’s blood supply, hampering its ability to grow.
According to the FDA, serious side effects include formation of holes in the colon that may require surgery to fix, impaired wound healing and internal bleeding. More common side effects are high blood pressure, fatigue, blood clots, diarrhea, appetite loss and increased risk of infection because of decreased white blood cells.
Genentech will begin shipping Avastin within the next few days. The company also is conducting clinical trials for Avastin as a treatment for several other types of cancer, including kidney, breast, prostrate, ovarian, and certain lung and skin cancers.