Chicago: Long-term use of Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG`s Avastin, in combination with chemotherapy, helped women with advanced ovarian cancer live longer without their cancer getting worse, according to results from a new study.
The trial, funded by the National Cancer Institute, found that women who received Avastin and chemotherapy, followed by "maintenance" use of Avastin, had a 39 percent improvement in the likelihood of living without the cancer worsening, compared with chemotherapy alone.
Women who continued Avastin, following Avastin and chemo, lived for an average of 14.1 months without cancer growth, compared with 10.3 months for women on chemo alone.
Patients who did not stay on Avastin did not do significantly better in the trial -- which enrolled 1,837 patients -- than those treated only with chemotherapy.
Avastin, which starves tumors of blood supply, is already a key weapon in the fight against colon, lung, breast and other cancers, but it has stumbled at key hurdles this year, failing in late-stage stomach and prostate cancer studies.
The drug is the first targeted therapy to show a benefit in ovarian cancer, one of the most deadly types of the disease.
"We do need to learn more about what is the effect of using this agent on overall survival," said Dr. Robert Burger, director of the women`s cancer center at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Women treated with Avastin had higher rates of side effects, including high blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems, than patients getting chemotherapy alone.
Some 230,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year worldwide and nearly 70 percent of women with advanced disease die within five years, according to Roche.
The company, which announced in February that the ovarian cancer trial had succeeded, has estimated that use of Avastin in ovarian cancer could add another 1 billion Swiss francs ($865 million) to sales.
The world`s largest maker of cancer drugs is looking to expand the reach of Avastin, which had sales of 6.2 billion francs in 2009 and could become the world`s top selling drug by 2014 with sales of some $9 billion a year.