Study finds drug Avastin helps brain tumors

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avastinAvastin, one of a new family of drugs that starves tumors of their blood supply, can slow the growth of the most common and deadly form of brain cancer, researchers reported on Monday.

Avastin combined with standard chemotherapy could temporarily stop the growth of brain tumors known as gliomas, the researchers reported in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Made by Genentech under the chemical name bevacizumab, Avastin is currently approved to treat lung and colorectal cancers.

"These results are exciting because of the possible implications for a patient population that currently has the poorest possible prognosis going into treatment -- those with malignant brain tumors that have recurred after initial treatment," said Dr. James Vredenburgh of Duke University, who led the study.

Vredenburgh's team tested Avastin in 32 patients with stage III or stage IV cancer.

When they added Avastin to the more standard chemotherapy drug irinotecan, the combination either shrank the tumors or restricted their growth in nearly all the patients, the researchers found.

They said 63 percent of the patients had their tumors shrink by at least 50 percent and the tumors did not start to grow again for at least six months in 38 percent.

Vredenburgh said chemotherapy usually slows the growth of gliomas for just six weeks to three months.

Life expectancy after diagnosis of a stage IV glioma -- the most aggressive type -- is eight to 15 months, Vredenburgh said. People with slightly less aggressive stage III glioma live between 16 months and two years on average.

An estimated 18,000 people are diagnosed with gliomas in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

They are difficult to treat because many drugs cannot reach the brain.

"When the tumor recurs after treatment, there are no standard therapies," Vredenburgh said. "This study may lead to options where there previously were none."

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

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