New drug can slow progress of ovarian cancer by up to six monthsNew trial of 1,500 women shows Avastindelays the advance of the disease
Doctors believe the drug already used to treat colon cancer could become the standard treatment for ovarian cancer

A drug can slow down the progress of ovarian cancer – known as the’ silent killer’ – by up to six months, claim researchers.

A new trial of 1,500 women shows Avastin delays the advance of the disease by an average of two months, compared with standard chemotherapy.

But women with the most aggressive disease got the biggest benefit, with the disease stalled for almost six months.

About 4,400 women die each year from the disease, which claims the lives of over 85 per cent of patients if found at a late stage

About 4,400 women die each year from the disease, which claims the lives of over 85 per cent of patients if found at a late stage

Avastin, also known as bevacizumab, is already widely used in patients with colon cancer, and doctors believe it will become a standard treatment for ovarian cancer.

Chief investigator Dr Tim Perren, Consultant Oncologist from St James’s Institute of Oncology, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Leeds, said: ‘These results are potentially very encouraging particularly for women with advanced ovarian cancer.

‘Bevacizumab is the first new drug for 15 years to show an advantage over existing treatments for women with this disease.

‘These results are however preliminary and will not be fully confirmed until early 2013.’

Ovarian cancer, which affects almost 7,000 women a year, is dubbed the ‘silent killer’ because symptoms are often diagnosed too late.

About 4,400 women die each year from the disease, which claims the lives of over 85 per cent of patients if found at a late stage when it has spread to other parts of the body.

There has been little improvement in overall survival rates since the introduction of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel 15 years ago.

Latest findings from an international trial sponsored by the UK Medical Research Council are published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The trial followed 1.528 ovarian cancer patients who were randomly allocated to receive either standard chemotherapy, or a combination of standard treatment and Avastin, following surgery to remove their tumour.

The researchers recorded the time taken for the disease to return, measured by CT scan.


International trials show Avastin gives women in the late stages of ovarian cancer an extra six months of life

The interim results of the trial, reported after 28 months of follow-up, show an overall slowing down of disease progression by around two months.

The results suggest it may improve overall survival in women, and the biggest effect on delaying the disease was found in women with an aggressive form of the disease – by almost six months.

Professor Max Parmar, director of the MRC Clinical Trials Unit and co-author of the study, said ‘This suggests that bevacizumab could be considered as a treatment for women with an advanced form of the disease, or whose cancer has come back after chemotherapy treatment.

‘However, the decision on whether to include the drug routinely should be delayed until we have further evidence on its impact on overall survival.’

Avastin is a ‘targeted’ cancer therapy that works by blocking the development of new blood vessels and interfering with the tumour’s ability to grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Combining the drug with chemotherapy has been shown to improve the effectiveness of treatment in several other forms of the disease including lung, kidney and colorectal cancers, although it has proved to be less effective than hoped in breast cancer.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said ‘It is very exciting and positive news for women living with ovarian cancer in the UK.

It is the first glimmer of hope that there are significant advancements in treatments for ovarian cancer on the horizon at last.

‘We said previously the real challenge was to find well-tolerated treatments that prolong the lives of women, and it seems that Avastin is now a significant step nearer to realising that goal.’

Roche, which manufactures the drug, has applied to the European Medicines Agency for a licence to use it to treat ovarian cancer and a decision is expected shortly.

It will need to be approved by the NHS rationing body, Nice, before it is widely used but in the meantime cancer specialists can apply for funding on behalf of patients to the Cancer Drugs Fund in England.