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Avastin cuts ovarian cancer risk during first year

MILAN, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Roche's ROG.VX blockbuster drug Avastin helps women with ovarian cancer live longer without their disease getting worse but its effect peaks at 12 months and then diminishes, researchers said on Monday.

Overall, the drug extends the time patients live without their disease getting worse by 1.5 months, Dr. Tim Perren from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, England, told the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress.

Analysts believe ovarian cancer could add $500 million to $1 billion to sales forecasts for Avastin, a product which sold $6 billion worldwide in 2009 as a treatment for bowel, breast, lung and other cancers.

But there is some uncertainty about how willing doctors and healthcare providers will be to use the drug widely in this setting, given its high cost.

The company announced in July that Avastin helped women with ovarian cancer live longer without their disease getting worse in the latest clinical study, known as ICON-7, but the detailed results were only unveiled in Milan.

At 12 months, women taking Avastin on top of chemotherapy had a 15 percent reduced risk of their disease progressing, compared with those on chemotherapy alone.

But beyond the first year the effect dwindled, with a median time to progression of 19.0 months in the Avastin group and 17.3 months in the control group. After around two years, the number of women alive without disease progression was lower in the Avastin arm.

Tentative early data did show an encouraging early trend in overall survival, with fewer deaths in patients treated with Avastin, or bevacizumab. But Perren cautioned a clear picture on whether patients lived longer would not emerge for two years.

“We need to see longer-term data. The key question is does the addition of bevacizumab to chemotherapy improve not just progression-free survival but overall survival as well,” he told reporters.

Given there have been no significant new drugs for ovarian cancer since the mid-1990s, cancer doctors said the results were encouraging and could represent a step forward in managing the disease.

Dr. Andres Poveda, of Spain’s Fundacion Instituto Valenciano de Oncologia, who was not involved in the trial, echoed Perren’s view that it was too early assess overall survival and urged researchers to try and identify sub-groups of patients who stood to gain most from Avastin. (Editing by David Cowell)