Roche’s Avastin Delays Tumor Growth in Ovarian Cancer

Roche Holding AG’s cancer treatment Avastin helped extend the length of time before ovarian tumors worsened in a study of patients whose disease had returned after chemotherapy.

Patients who got Avastin together with chemotherapy had 6.7 months before their cancer progressed, compared with 3.4 months for women who only got chemotherapy in the 361-patient study. The data was released today at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

The results didn’t show whether Avastin helped the women live longer, an advantage it may need to win expanded approval. Roche saw Avastin sales drop 7 percent last year as lack of a life-extending benefit led the Food and Drug Administration to revoke the drug’s approval for breast cancer patients. The company is awaiting final data on ovarian cancer survival before seeking U.S. approval for the indication, said Sandra Horning, Roche’s global head of oncology development.

“We are impressed with the improvement in median progression-free survival” in today’s study, Horning said in a telephone interview.

The study focused on patients whose tumors recurred less than six months after a course of chemotherapy. Two trials showed last year that while Avastin delayed ovarian cancer progression, it didn’t lengthen patients’ lives.

Avastin is approved in Europe to treat newly diagnosed, advanced ovarian cancer, a different group of patients than those studied in this trial. The medicine is also sold for tumors in the gut, lungs and kidneys and remains on the market for breast cancer in Europe. Global Avastin sales were 5.3 billion Swiss francs ($5.5 billion) last year.

About 22,280 women are expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. in 2012, and about 15,500 will probably die, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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