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Avastin Shows Promise for HER-2 Positive Breast Cancer

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December 21, 2011 — Following the Food and Drug Administration’s decision in November 2011 to pull Avastin’s approval for breast cancer treatment, a new study has found that it may be beneficial for a certain type of breast cancer.

The study followed 424 women who had HER-2 positive breast cancer that was locally recurrent or metastasized. The researchers found that women who took Avastin in addition to Herceptin and docetaxel had a 28% reduction in cancer progression or death.

This adds growing evidence that cancer patients benefit from individualized cancer treatments based on certain “biomarkers” that researchers can study. These characteristics can help a physician identify which medication (or combination of medications) might best treat the disease.

The problem with Avastin is that there is no biomarker to help physicians identify the sub-group of cancer patients who would benefit from the treatment. The FDA pulled its approval of Avastin for breast cancer after finding that it did not increase the overall survival rate, though it did lead to longer periods of disease-free survival.

The results of the AVEREL study were announced at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The study was a randomized, placebo-controlled Phase III trial that evaluated Avastin (bevacizumab) combined with trastuzumab (Herceptin) and docetaxel (Taxotere) as therapy for HER-2 positive breast cancer.

Avastin works by interfering with a tumor’s blood supply, by inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels. It is approved to treat a wide variety of cancers, including colon, kidney, lung, and brain cancer. It has significant side effects, including deterioration of the jaw, ovarian failure, venous thrombolic events, severe high blood pressure, bleeding and hemorrhaging, heart attack, heart failure, and the development of perforations in the nose, intestines, and stomach.

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