Avastin Studies Point to Benefit in Early Stage Breast Cancer

Two studies of Roche Holding AG’s Avastin show the tumor-fighting drug may help early-stage breast cancer patients, though the results may not show enough of a benefit to change the way doctors treat the disease.

A U.S. study of 1,206 patients and a German study of 1,948 patients found that adding Avastin to chemotherapy in patients with breast tumors that haven’t spread to other organs slightly increased the likelihood of a tumor shrinking to an undetectable level.

The Food and Drug Administration revoked approval of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer in November, saying its benefits didn’t outweigh side effects including high blood pressure and bleeding. Oncologists will probably continue to follow the ruling because of the possibility of not being reimbursed, said Charles Vogel, of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at Deerfield Beach, Florida, who reviewed the studies in an editorial published alongside them today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Oncologists are not going to go out on a limb thinking that insurers are not going to pay them,” Vogel said in a telephone interview.

The findings are “interesting and important,” Roche said in an e-mailed statement. “Longer follow-up from these studies is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn.”

The Basel, Switzerland-based drugmaker contributed funding to both studies. Data from a larger trial, dubbed Beatrice, is expected this year, Roche said.

Avastin remains approved for colon, lung, kidney and brain cancer and is approved for breast cancer in Europe.

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