November 29, 2004

Study: Drug Helps Sickest Cancer Patients

SAN FRANCISCO -- Genentech Inc. said Monday its novel colon cancer-fighting drug Avastin helped some of the sickest patients stay alive two months longer than expected, giving the drug an additional boost on its way to blockbuster status.

The South San Francisco-based biotechnology titan made the announcement ahead of a major conference for cancer researchers and doctors scheduled for January, when the company said it would release more detailed results from a large-scale human experiment using Avastin in combination with a chemotherapy treatment.

"This study provides additional evidence that adding Avastin to chemotherapy results in a significant survival benefit for patients with either untreated or relapsed metastatic colorectal cancer," said Dr. Hal Barron, Genentech's chief medical officer.

The company said patients receiving Avastin and chemotherapy survived, on average, for 12 months compared to 10 months for patients receiving chemotherapy only.

"For individual patients, two months can be quite critical to get their affairs in order and spend time with their families," said Dr. Sunil Gupta, an oncology executive at the Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis SA, which makes the chemotherapy regimen. "It's also important because in cancer treatment, advances over the last several decades have been incremental in this manner."

The Food and Drug Administration initially approved Avastin in February to be used in combination with another chemotherapy therapy to treat colon cancer patients.

Since then, Avastin has accounted for $354 million in sales through Sept. 30.

Avastin is designed to choke the blood supply that feeds tumors and is the first drug of its kind to be approved by the FDA.

Genentech said Monday it planned to discuss its newest Avastin results with the FDA about approving the new combination for widespread use.

Analysts expect the drug, which costs each patient about $4,400 per month, to surpass $1 billion in annual sales in the next few years. The company also is investigating Avastin's possibilities to treat other forms of cancer, including breast, lung and kidney.

Trading in Genentech's shares on the New York Stock Exchange was briefly halted midday Monday as the company made its announcement. The shares rose 50 cents to $49.22 by mid-afternoon.


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