Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab) has received approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer, in combination with standard chemotherapy.

The drug is now available to patients in England through application to the Cancer Drugs Fund, while clinicians in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can make individual funding requests for it.

With approximately 6,500 new cases diagnosed each year, ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in women in the UK and the most common cause of gynaecological cancer death, resulting in 4,370 such deaths in the UK in 2008, says Roche.

Avastin has been shown to halt ovarian cancer for six months more than chemotherapy (carboplatin and paclitaxel) alone, and clinicians and patient groups have welcomed the drug's licensing.

"Avastin is the first new drug that has been shown to improve outcomes for women with advanced ovarian cancer for the past 15 years," said Dr Timothy Perren, consultant medical oncologist at St James's University Hospital, Leeds. "Ovarian cancer currently has the worst outcomes of all gynaecological cancers and halting disease progression for six months is an important step forward in treating this condition," he added.

Louise Bayne, chief executive of the charity Ovacome, said the drug's licensing "heralds a new era of hope for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, who have previously been faced with a devastating diagnosis plus a lack of innovative treatments," while Gilda Witte, chief executive of Ovarian Cancer Action, said that it will, each year, provide thousands of women with "the hope of spending vital extra time with their families and loved ones."

Ms Witte added: "sadly, too many women in the UK are diagnosed at a late stage of disease, when the survival rates are considerably worse. Whilst Avastin provides new hope for prolonged life, we need to ensure more women are diagnosed at an earlier stage to improve their chances of survival."

Ovarian Cancer Action continues to call on the government for measures to be built into clinical trials to ensure women do not suffer unnecessarily from their treatment, said Ms Witte, adding: "women with ovarian cancer deserve a longer and better quality life."

- Avastin is approved in the European Union (EU) for the treatment of the advanced stages of five common cancer types - colorectal, breast, lung, kidney and ovarian. Over 1 million patients have been treated with the drug so far, and an ongoing clinical programme with more than 450 clinical trials is investigating its use in various tumour types. Final information on whether Avastin improves the survival of women with ovarian cancer will emerge in 2013.