- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

In an important decision that will extend lives and might help save them, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved last week the anti-cancer drug Avastin for use against metastatic colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, estimated to kill more than 57,000 individuals last year. Avastin is not, by itself, a cure for colon cancer, but it has been shown to extend the lives of those with advanced forms of the disease by an average of five months when used in combination with chemotherapy.

To secure the nutrients they need for growth, tumors form networks of blood vessels around and through themselves. Avastin, an antibody found in mice, was genetically modified to bind to one molecule among millions. Thus, it reduces its toxicity and lessens the severity of its potential side effects, making it easier to use in combination with chemotherapy. It is the second such antibody-based treatment to be sanctioned for use against colon cancer last month. The first was Erbitux, which interferes with the growth of cancer cells by blocking a protein on their surface called epidermal growth factor receptor.

Neither drug is cheap — Avastin is expected to cost about $4,400 each month — and both still have severe side effects on rare occasions. However, such tailored therapies are likely to be a regular part of future cancer treatment regimens.

Avastin’s approval is also a sign that medicine makers and drug regulators can effectively work toward the same end of safely and speedily putting new treatments on the market. Although Erbitux’s approval took some time, Avastin was approved a mere five months after its application. As FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan noted in a press conference announcing the approval of Avastin, “There is a lot of innovation going on throughout this process.”

That must continue to happen. Each new therapy brought to the market brings the potential of turning today’s death sentences into tomorrow’s treatable illnesses. This life-saving treatment, which is likely to be a covered benefit under the recently passed Medicare reform bill (even though it could cost more than $50,000 each year), is another reminder of why sensible prescription drug coverage for the elderly is both inevitable and necessary.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide