A new UK-based trial of Roche's Avastin demonstrates that it improves overall survival (OS) in women with high-risk advanced ovarian cancer, bringing new hope to patients despite the drug not being routinely available on the National Health Service.

Data out this morning show that women at highest risk of their cancer recurring given Avastin in combination with chemotherapy, and then continued maintenance Avastin, lived on average 9.4 months longer than those on chemotherapy alone (median OS 39.7 months vs. 30.3 months). 

According to study lead Timothy Perren, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, the improvements seen in OS in the trial "are a real breakthrough". 

"We already knew Avastin delays the time to disease progression for women with this disease. We now know Avastin also significantly extends some patient’s lives", he said.

Around 7,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year, but 85% of cases are diagnosed when the disease has already spread beyond the ovaries, leaving patients with few treatment options.

According to Roche, Avastin is "the first drug that has been shown to improve outcomes for women with advanced ovarian cancer for the past 15 years".

And yet, despite the UK having one of the highest incidences of the disease in Europe, as well as one of the highest associated mortality rates, NHS cost regulators have rejected the drug's use in ovarian cancer, barring patients from routine access to treatment, on grounds that it does not offer value for money.

Patients in England are, however, able to access Avastin (should their clinician deem it appropriate) through the Cancer Drugs Fund, funding for which was recently extended by the government until 2016. But there is no such fund for women living in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

New Actemra okay

Meantime, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a subcutaneous formulation of Roche's Actemra (tocilizumab) for the treatment of adults with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis, who have used one or more disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Like the intravenous formulation, the SC version can be used both as a single-agent therapy and in combination with methotrexate or other non-biologic DMARDs.