A new cancer drug that works by blocking tumors’ access to oxygen and nutrients has been found to prolong the lives of patients with colorectal cancer.
Doctors say the success of the drug, called Avastin, is providing insight into a new approach to treating cancer.
Dr. Mansoor Saleh, Director of Research at Georgia Cancer Specialists (GCS), said the results of the clinical trial do not come as a complete surprise to cancer experts.
“There has been a theory among oncologists that starving a tumor would be an effective way of defeating it,” said Dr. Saleh. “This trial provides the first line of convincing evidence that this is true.”
GCS was the first practice in Georgia to offer its patients access to Avastin in the clinical trial setting. Dr. Bruce Feinberg, CEO of GCS, was quoted recently in The New York Times’ coverage of the Avastin trial.
In the Phase III trial, Avastin was administered with chemotherapy to patients with previously untreated metastatic colorectal cancer. A control group was given chemotherapy alone.
Patients using Avastin lived significantly longer than those who were only given chemotherapy, said Genentech, the makers of Avastin. These results “far exceeded what the study was designed to demonstrate,” the company said.
Avastin is known as an anti-angiogenic drug because it prevents tumors from developing their own blood supply. It is this process, called angiogenesis, that promotes the growth and spread of tumors.
Dr. Saleh said Avastin’s success with colorectal cancer could lead to similar treatment approaches for other types of cancer.
“There are numerous clinical trials right now that are looking at using the Avastin approach with other cancers,” Dr. Saleh said. “Now that we know this can work, it is likely that these trials will attract more attention and new trials will begin.”
Genentech is currently testing Avastin with other colorectal cancer drugs. It is also testing the drug for use in other cancers, including kidney cancer.
Genentech will offer a formal presentation of the trial results at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting starting May 31 in Chicago.
If approved by the FDA, Avastin could be on the market by early 2004.