December 15, 2006

Drug shows some benefit for advanced lung cancer patients

Featured Image

Alan Sandler, M.D.

Drug shows some benefit for advanced lung cancer patients

Results of a multi-center clinical trial of the drug bevacizumab (Avastin) in patients with advanced, non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer show it may help extend the lives of some patients.

In a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, Alan Sandler, M.D., medical director of Thoracic Oncology at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, documents information from the trial of nearly 900 patients with metastatic, non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The patients had not received prior chemotherapy. They were randomized, with half receiving Avastin in addition to chemotherapy, and half on standard chemotherapy alone.

Sandler said the research showed patients who received Avastin combined with chemotherapy lived, on average, about two months longer (12.3 months) than the group who only received chemotherapy (10.3 months).

The findings, as reported in the journal, show the first promising option in years for treating patients with this advanced and often deadly form of lung cancer.

“This is the first time in more than 10 years that we've seen an increase in survival in patients with metastatic, non-small cell lung cancer,” Sandler said.

The trial was led by Sandler and conducted by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG), one of the nation's largest clinical cancer research organizations.

Avastin prevents the development of new blood vessels that allow a tumor to continue to grow. The humanized monoclonal antibody binds to and blocks a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which appears to play a vital role in new blood vessel development.

The drug therefore spares normal, healthy cells, and helps patients avoid the severe side effects caused by standard chemotherapy.

In an earlier study in patients with NSCLC, Sandler said an unexpected high incidence of life-threatening pulmonary bleeding was documented.

“Evaluation of possible baseline characteristics identified squamous histology as the major risk factor. Restricting this study to patients with non-squamous histology greatly reduced the incidence of life-threatening pulmonary hemorrhage,” he noted.

Avastin was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in patients with the disease. The drug was previously approved to treat metastatic colorectal cancer.