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Data Review Indicates Drug Improves Brain Cancer Survival

Glioblastoma tumor cells

Glioblastoma tumor cells (Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota found patients who took the drug bevacizumab for the brain cancer glioblastoma lived somewhat longer than patients with the disease before the drug’s FDA approval in 2009.  The team of neurologists Derek Johnson, Heather Leeper, and Joon Uhm describe their findings in a recent issue of the journal Cancer (paid subscription required).

Glioblastoma is a highly malignant form of cancer that forms tumors on astrocytes, cells that support neurons in the brain. The aggressiveness of the cancer is a result of the rapid reproduction of tumor cells and their support from a large network of blood vessels. American Brain Tumor Association says glioblastoma accounts for about 17 percent of all brain tumors. Removal of glioblastoma tumors is often a challenge because of their tenacle-like shape, and treatments are difficult because the tumors are made of many different kinds of cells.

The Mayo team reviewed data of 5,607 deceased adult patients in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database maintained by the National Cancer Institute, covering a period before and after conditional approval of bevacizumab by FDA for glioblastoma in 2009. Of the 5,607 patients, 1,715 died in 2006, 1,924 died in 2008, and 1,968 died in 2010.

The results show the median survival time for patients who died in 2006 and 2008 was 8 and 7 months respectively. Median survival time for those who died in 2010 was 9 months, a statistically significant longer time when compared to 2008. The difference in median survival time occurred in all age categories, except for the youngest (18 to 39) group.

The accelerated approval by FDA in 2009 was based on encouraging MRI scans from clinical trials showing the effects of bevacizumab on glioblastoma tumors, but not on time of survival. Johnson, Leeper, and Uhm conducted the study to answer the question about survival. The findings, however, indicate an association between taking bevacizumab and increased survival time, not a conclusive cause-and-effect.

Bevacizumab is marketed by Genentech, a division of Roche, under the brand name Avastin. The drug is also approved by FDA for some forms of metastatic (spreading) colorectal, breast, kidney, and lung cancer.

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