The FDA has approved the drug bevacizumab (Avastin) for first time treatment of advanced lung cancer in conjunction with chemotherapy. This comes after a large randomised study on lung cancer patients led by Dr.Alan Sandler, lung cancer specialist and director of Thoracic Oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
Nearly 900 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) were tested during the trial. None of them had received any previous chemotherapy. Half were given Avastin along with standard chemotherapy drugs while the others were given chemotherapy alone. The study revealed that patients on Avastin survived an average of two months longer than the usual one year survival rate.
Though this does not sound wonderful, it is important to bear in mind that the results were based on average reactions. In some people the survival was even longer, while in others the tumours shrunk and disappeared. However there was no response in some patients.
Bevacizumab is a targeted drug, which means that it does not attack non-cancerous cells. It acts by stopping development of new blood vessels, which supply the tumours. The side effects are generally mild. However a unique and serious one is bleeding from the primary tumour, since the drug acts on the blood vessels; this has to be addressed.
Dr. Sandler is hopeful that the drug will prove path breaking and lead to better survival rates and also to more patients being cured if the disease is caught early. As NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer in the US, this is encouraging news indeed.