Bevacizumab Avastin

Learn about your cancer drugs.


Bevacizumab (commonly called Avastin) which is used to treat advanced bowel, breast, kidney, brain and non-small cell lung cancer.

It is a monoclonal antibody usually given with chemotherapy and has the ability to lock onto proteins found on the surface of the cancer cell. Bevacizumab targets a protein on the cells called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and thus can stop some cancers from developing new blood vessels (anti-angiogenesis). This reduces the cancer’s supply of oxygen and nutrients, and so causes the tumour to shrink or stop growing. It is given intravenously.

Side effects can include: high blood pressure, allergic reactions, increased risk of blood clots, constipation, lowered resistance to infection, bleeding, kidney damage.

Monoclonal Antibodies

The problem with all mono-clonal antibodies is that they work well for a few people (perhaps 20 per cent of the total with the disease). This is because they are linked toi  a genetic issue that only occurs in certain patients; and there should be a genetic test to see which patients would benefit. (The classic situation is for Herceptin and the HER-2 protein gene). This makes judging the drug across all patients somewhat misleading. However, that is exactly what health bodies do. For example, NICE is saying that Avastin is ’not worth the money’ for colorectal cancer patients, according to the British Press in August 2010, because it only extends survival by 6 weeks on average. Yes, but what did it do for the group that were geneticall positive. The drugs companies only have themselves to blame. With each monoclonal antibody there should be a genetic test (as there is for Herceptin) to show who would benefit, and for whom the drug really is a waste of money.

With that in mind users should read this July 2010 report from America, covered in Cancer Watch, and the letter that follows:

Avastin ’not for breast cancer’


A Food and DRUG Administration (FDA) panel of cancer experts in the USA has voted 12-1 in favour of removing the approval for use of Avastin with breast cancer. ’Their study showed that there is very little benefit to patients with significant toxicity risks and no clear survival benefit’, said Natalie Potis, the panel patients’ representative.

Worse, the panelists also worried that the drug did more harm than good because of ’serious side effect, including high blood pressure, fatigue and abnormal levels of white blood cells’. Dr Wyndham Wilson of the NCI added ’We have definitive evidence that Avastin causes harmful side effects and we’ve now seen a number of well done studies that show no advantage to lifespan’.

Avastin, was heralded as the ’blockbuster, wonder drug’ when launched it is a genetically engineered protein grown from hamster ovary cells and supposedly stops nutrients feeding a cancer tumour.  Roche sales of Avastin last year were $5.9 billion; Roche acquired the drug when it bought the American company Genentech last year..

The drug is also approved for use with colon, lung, kidney and brain tumours, not just breast cancer. However, this new study does not report on these other cancers.

In 2008 the FDA approved the drug for use based on a trial showing that it extended the time before the cancer worsened by more than five months. At the time many cancer experts said that the drug had not been shown to extend survival times.

As a condition of the approval, Roche had to submit further studies and these did not show the same degree of delay when used with chemotherapy, nor did they show any significant survival time increases.

(Bangkok Post, July 2010)


Other articles that you may find interesting are:

  1. Diet for Chemotherapy ;

  2. beneficial bacteria ;

  3. A-Z guide to complementary therapies;

  4. Your cancer, where you can read about everything from causes to cancer treatments to complementary therapies for your cancer.

  5. How to boost your immune system.

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Learn about your cancer drugs.
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