New data published in the New England Journal of Medicine has given a further seal of approval to the benefits of Roche and Genentech’s Avastin for lung cancer patients.

The data, published in the December 14 issue of the journal, is from the pivotal E4599 study, which provided the basis for the US Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval for Avastin (bevacizumab) for use in patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

The results confirm Avastin to be the first treatment regimen proven to extend survival beyond one year in patients with previously untreated NSCLC. The study shows that median duration of survival in the Avastin plus paclitaxel and carboplatin chemotherapy group was 12.3 months compared to 10.3 months in the group treated with chemotherapy alone. Overall, patients treated with Avastin plus chemotherapy had a 27% improvement in survival compared to patients receiving chemotherapy alone.

The results also revealed that patients treated with Avastin saw a median duration of progression-free survival of 6.2 months compared to 4.5 months for those treated with chemotherapy alone. However, side effects such as hypertension, proteinuria, bleeding, neutropenia, febrile neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, hyponatremia rash and headache were significantly higher in the Avastin group.

Changing treatment standard of care

Nevertheless, the response to the data has been extremely positive. Alan Sandler, director of Medical Thoracic Oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville and study chair for the E4599 trial, said: “This is the first large, randomised clinical study in which a targeted therapy, combined with chemotherapy, extended survival beyond one year in patients with advanced lung cancer. The results of this study have changed the treatment standard of care for this devastating disease.”

The publication of the study will do no harm to sales of Avastin, which previously was approved for the treatment of colorectal cancer, and the lung cancer green light can only help grow a drug that Genentech already expects to have sales of around $1.6 billion this year.