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Research: Avastin Shows Mild Promise in the Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

Shortly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected approval of the drug Avastin to treat breast cancer, two newly published studies showed some benefits of Avastin in treating ovarian cancer. Avastin is FDA-approved to treat some colorectal, lung, brain, and kidney cancers.

Patients with advanced ovarian cancer typically undergo surgery and chemotherapy. However, in the first of two studies on Avastin published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that advanced ovarian cancer patients who received Avastin with chemotherapy followed by Avastin for up to an additional 10 months, slowed the progression of their cancer by about four months compared to those patients who received chemotherapy with a placebo and then continued with a placebo. According to Fox Chase Cancer Center, the net effect was a 28% reduction in the risk of disease of ovarian cancer progression over time. Patients who received Avastin only with chemotherapy, but not afterward, had a median progression-free survival of 11.2 months.

 “This approach can be looked upon as a third major component of treatment for ovarian cancer and related malignancies,” says Robert A. Burger, MD, lead investigator of the study and director of the Women's Cancer Center at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in the Center’s news release.

The second study on Avastin found slowed cancer progression by one to two months in patients with advanced ovarian cancer who received the drug with chemotherapy, compared to those who received chemotherapy alone.

Roche's Genentech unit, maker of the Avastin, recently received approval from European regulators to use Avasin in treating advanced ovarian cancer in Europe but Genentech does not believe that the research would lead to FDA approval in the United States.

In December 2010, the FDA decided to remove the breast cancer indication from the Avastin label, citing that the drug has not be shown to be safe or effective in breast cancer patients. Avatin has been on the market for 2 years to treat breast cancer, but an advisory panel to the FDA recommended last July that the drug Avastin no longer be administered to breast cancer patients along with chemotherapy. Researchers on the panel found no meaningful benefit for patients who took Avastin and believed the toxicity of the drug outweigh positive effects.

 The National Cancer Institute estimates that nearly 22,000 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011, and more than 15,000 died of the disease.

 Resources and References

  •  The December 28, 2011 Fox Chase Cancer Center news release, “Targeted Therapy Extends Progression-Free Survival of Patients with Advanced Ovarian Cancer,” was posted on the Center’s web site,
  •  The studies, “A Phase 3 Trial of Bevacizumab in Ovarian Cancer” and “Incorporation of Bevacizumab in the Primary Treatment of Ovarian Cancer,” were published in the December 29, 2011 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine,
  •  To learn more about ovarian cancer, please visit