Local breast cancer researcher: FDA should keep Avastin

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PHOENIX – The Food and Drug Administration is considering banning Avastin, a commonly used cancer drug, for use in breast cancer patients.

A recent study showed that Avastin did not make patients live longer. On Wednesday, a six-member advisory panel voted unanimously that Avastin is ineffective and unsafe. They recommend that the FDA pull it approval of Avastin as a treatment option for breast cancer.

Dr. Suwon Kim from the Yale School of Medicine is head of the TGen Breast Cancer Genetics Lab in Arizona. She disagrees with the advisory panel and says the FDA keep Avastin.

“Clearly, Avastin works for some women,” she said. “For those women, it is a matter of life and death. Although the Avastin does not meet the grade for overall breast cancer survival, for those women, I think it’s very important to keep it.”

At TGen, Kim is working on tailoring treatments based on an individual genetic makeup. She said it’s essential to understand why a treatment is effective for some people but not others. “If we can pinpoint why they work, then we can make a case of it,” Kim said.

Knowing if a treatment has a good chance of working in an individual means doctors can treat preemptively. The “try is and see what happens” method of treatment could become a thing of the past. TGen’s research could give doctors a good idea of what will work and what won’t for an individual patient . That could translate to better survival rates.

“We’re sequencing the whole genome of triple negative, which is the most aggressive for of breast cancer,” Kim said.

The idea is to determine exactly which genes are involved and develop a treatment based on that.

Kim’s research lab focuses on Tamoxifen, another breast cancer drug. She says her team has discovered a molecule that might tell them how a specific patient might respond to Tamoxifen.

“We made an exciting connection recently that will be a simple test given to women at the time of diagnosis and we can predict whether they will respond to Tamoxifen,” Kim explained.

In addition to learning what treatments will and won’t be effective in individuals, Kim says the goal of her research is to develop better therapeutics.

While Avastin is approved for the treatment of other cancers and will still be available to breast cancer patients, insurance companies might not cover the costs if it loses its FDA approval for breast cancer. If that’s the case, patients taking Avastin could be forced to pay between $80,000 and $100,000 per year for the drug.

The FDA is not bound by the advisory panel’s recommendation. A final decision is expected after July 28.