Roche’s much-hailed blockbuster Avastin has now been launched in the UK for the treatment of kidney cancer, offering patients a new weapon in the fight against the disease.

The roll-out closely follows the drug’s European approval for the first-line treatment of renal cell carcinoma, the most common form of kidney cancer, last month, marking a major boon both for the firm and patients suffering from the disease, which kills 3,500 each year in the UK alone.

Kidney cancer is particularly difficult to treat, given that it is often only diagnosed in the advanced stages and treatment options are limited, given that this type of cancer is highly resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, leaving doctors with little choice on how to control the disease.

Avastin (bevacizumab), which works by choking off the blood supply to tumours thereby preventing their growth, has previously been hailed ‘a pipeline in a product’ because of its potential in treating several different tumour types, and is already on several markets for breast, lung and colorectal cancer.

Clearance in the kidney cancer indication was based on results from the pivotal Phase III AVOREN trial, which showed that, in combination with the standard treatment interferon, Avastin (bevacizumab) was able to almost double progression-free survival compared to IFN alone.

Specifically, AVOREN included 649 patients from 101 study sites across 18 countries who received treatment with either Avastin and IFN or placebo and IFN. Progression-free survival jumped from a median of 5.4 to 10.2 months, while tumour response was boosted from 12.8% with interferon alone to 31.4% when Avastin was added to the regimen.

Roche also noted that the study also showed a trend towards improved overall survival, but that this will be confirmed at a later date when all the relevant data have been collected.

Welcome news
“The availability of Avastin for patients with advanced kidney cancer in the UK is very welcome news”, according to Dr Peter Harper, Consultant Physician and Oncologist from Guy’s and St Thomas' Hospital and the London Oncology Clinic, because the drug “significantly increases the time that patients’ kidney cancer is controlled, and represents an important step forward in the treatment of the disease”.

The UK’s cost-effectiveness body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, is currently assessing the drug - as well as Bayer/Onyx’s Nexavar (sorafenib), Pfizer’s Sutent (sunitinib) and Wyeth’s Torisel (temsirolimus) - for use on the National Health Service.

Guidance is expected in January next year, but the firm stressed that, in the meantime, doctors are free to prescribe Avastin for kidney cancer if deemed appropriate.

A spokesperson for the company told PharmaTimes UK news that treatment with Avastin for kidney cancer costs around £23,000 per patient per year.