Popular Cancer Drug Is Iffy and Expensive

Widely prescribed Avastin doesn't prolong life, studies say
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2008 10:48 AM CDT
The Genentech Inc. headquarters are seen in South San Francisco, Calif.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
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(Newser) – Avastin is one of the most widely prescribed cancer drugs in the world, but it might not work, the New York Times reports. The drug, made by Genentech, brings in about $2.3 billion a year in the US alone, but recent trials have shown that though the drug shrinks tumors in sufferers of colon, breast, and lung cancer, it offers little extension of life.

Further complicating the issue, Avastin is routinely prescribed for cancers for which it's not recommended. But some doctors can’t shake that humanitarian impulse, as Avastin patients have reported a positive quality-of-life change, Medicare dollars be damned. “I can’t say, ‘Let’s not use Avastin; it’s a very expensive drug and I am worried about the cost to society,’" said one physician. (Read more Avastin stories.)