Following its approval in the European Union in January [[14/01/05b]], Roche has started rolling out its colorectal cancer treatment, Avastin (bevacizumab), in the UK Germany and Switzerland.

Avastin was co-developed with Genentech, which introduced the drug in its first market, the US, last year [[27/02/04a]]. In Europe it has been approved for first-line treatment of patients with colorectal cancer in combination with chemotherapy. The drug is the first to extend the life of colorectal cancer patients, showing a 30% improvement in clinical trials, adding five months to the 15-month extension achieved by chemotherapy alone.

A spokeswoman for Roche said that Avastin would be priced at £944 per 400mg vial, which corresponds to a monthly cost of £1,800 per patient. She said this was at a similar level to Merck KGaA’s Erbitux (cetuximab), another biologic drug for colorectal cancer, which was approved in Europe last summer [[01/07/04a]]. Competition is expected to be fierce between the two drugs, which are going head-to-head in a US government-sponsored trial that got underway earlier this year [[18/01/05e]].

Avastin brought $555 million dollars into Genentech’s coffers in 2004 – making it the US firm’s second biggest drug after lymphoma treatment Rituxan (rituximab), and pushing breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) into third place. Analysts have suggested that Avastin could eventually bring in 2 billion Swiss francs ($1.7 billion) in 2005, rising towards the 3 billion-franc mark in 2006 [[14/07/04c]].

The drug, which acts by interrupting the growth of blood vessels in tumours and starving them of oxygen and nutrients, is also in Phase III testing for non-small cell lung cancer and metastatic breast cancer, with additional studies ongoing in kidney, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

Roche also noted that it would be filing a submission to the UK National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the summer. NICE, which delivered cost effectiveness judgements for drugs prescribed under the UK National Health Service, will also consider Erbitux in its deliberations.