Breast Cancer
Avastin is no longer approved for use in treating metastatic breast cancer, but Medicare will continue paying for it. Image: Flickr / euthman / CC-BY-SA

Avastin is a cancer drug developed by Genentech, a part of Roche Pharmaceuticals. The drug was provisionally approved for use in treating metastatic breast cancer, but that approval has been pulled.

The promise of Avastin

Avastin was originally approved in 2008 through a provisional program developed in the 1990s. The program was intended to put promising drugs on the market while manufacturers completed the final studies necessary for full FDA market approval. Avastin is a drug that treats metastatic cancers that have spread throughout the body and initially showed positive chances at treating the cancer.

FDA pulls Avastin approval

Three years after provisional approval and after several new studies, the FDA canceled approval for use of the drug to treat metastatic breast cancer. The decision has proven very controversial. Thousands of women with advanced breast cancer believe that Avastin was the only thing that kept them alive. The statistical information about the drug, however, shows that Avastin simply does not improve survival rates of breast cancer. Avastin also comes with a wide variety of dangerous side effects, including high blood pressure.

Medicare will still cover Avastin

Though Avastin is no longer approved for use as a drug to combat metastatic breast cancer, it is still approved for use in treating several other cancers. Before the FDA approval, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network listed Avastin in its compendia of cancer resources. Because Medicare covers all cancer treatments listed in these compendia, Medicare will continue to cover the use of Avastin to treat breast cancer. Several insurance companies have said that they will not cover Avastin as a breast cancer treatment, because it would be an off-label use. Some insurers, however, will continue to follow the recommendations of the compendia. Avastin treatment costs between $80,000 and $100,000 per year without insurance coverage. Insurance companies generally pay between $58,000 and $80,000 per year for Avastin treatment.

Sources

Slate: http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2011/11/18/avastin_revoked_by_fda_no_longer_approved_for_breast_cancer_treatment.html
Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2011/11/18/fda-hits-avastin-saying-best-selling-breast-cancer-drug-does-not-work/
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/19/business/fda-revokes-approval-of-avastin-as-breast-cancer-drug.html

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