Avastin decision is a nightmare for many breast cancer patients

On Dec. 16, the Food and Drug Administration made a decision that could cause thousands of breast cancer patients to lose their last hope. That day, officials voted to revoke approval for Avastin for the treatment of late-stage breast cancer.

This move is a disgrace.

Avastin reduces blood flow to tumors, allowing it to halt the spread of breast cancer in some patients. In one clinical trial, 52 percent of Avastin users saw their tumors stop growing or spreading to other parts of their bodies.

In most other breast cancer patients, Avastin acts as a pause button, temporarily sparing women from deteriorating further. On average, Avastin extends life by a few months. However, some “super-responders” react especially well and enjoy additional years.

FDA bureaucrats know this, but they ignored the evidence. Last week, officials said Avastin does not offer “a sufficient benefit in slowing disease progression to outweigh the significant risk to patients.”

How could the FDA come to such a conclusion? The agency was likely influenced by Avastin’s cost. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers typically pick up a substantial slice of the tab for Avastin, and an annual regimen costs upward of $90,000.

But for many of the 17,500 American women who are prescribed Avastin every year, those dollars translate into a substantial amount of extra life.

Even among patients who do not experience a substantial increase in lifespan, Avastin can still significantly improve their quality of life, enabling them to better enjoy the time they have left and meet death with grace and dignity.

The exact same day the FDA revoked Avastin’s approval, its counterpart across the Atlantic Ocean did the opposite. The European Union’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use had conducted a similar investigation into Avastin in breast cancer treatment.

Officials found that the drug, when used in combination with a treatment called paclitaxel, substantially prolonged progression-free survival. They ruled to retain its approval.

Public insurance programs could use the FDA’s decision as justification to stop covering Avastin for breast cancer. Private insurers are likely to follow suit. In fact, several national insurers — including Regence and HSCS — have already started restricting reimbursements for Avastin for breast cancer.

So most women are going to be stuck trying to pay for Avastin without the help of insurance. Effectively, the FDA has decided that many late-stage breast cancer patients can have extra time with their loved ones only if they can afford Avastin themselves.

Worse still, this decision could smother future pharmaceutical development. Genentech, Avastin’s developer, spent some $2.3 billion creating the treatment. In reaction to the FDA decision, other firms will be less likely to make the investments required for research into advanced drugs.

Every year, 40,000 American women die of breast cancer. It is true that Avastin cannot save most of them. But for a select group, the drug improves life dramatically. It should not be put on the chopping block.

Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book, “The Truth About Obamacare” (Regnery 2010), was released recently.

AvastinOp Edsop-edOpinion

Just Posted

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, pictured in July at Oracle Park, says team members simultaneously can be “measured and calm” and “looking to push the accelerator.” (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
How Gabe Kapler sets the tone for Giants’ success with strategy, mindset

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the hands-down manager of the year’

Artist Agnieszka Pilat, pictured with Spot the Robot Dog from Boston Robotics, has a gallery show opening at Modernism. (Courtesy Agnieszka Pilat)
Screenshots of VCs, Kanye and tech parties by the Bay

In this week’s roundup, Ben Horowitz’s surprising hip-hop knowledge and the chic tech crowd at Shack15

Speaker of the Parliament of Mongolia Gombojav Zandanshatar said his country and San Francisco face similar challenges on issues including COVID recovery and climate change. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Mongolian leaders meet with tech, film leaders on city tour

‘I really want San Franciscans to meet the new Mongolian generation’

If he secured a full term in the Senate, Newsom would become the most powerful Californian Democrat since Phil Burton at the height of his career, or maybe ever. <ins>(Kevin Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10), seen during a team practice, connected on 17 of 25 passes in a Week 1 victory over the Detroit Lions. (Courtesy Terrell Lloyd, San Francisco 49ers)
Jimmy vs. Trey: The NFL’s most ridiculous QB controversy

Let’s not forget who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl

Most Read