About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

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August 30, 2010

Avastin For Metastatic Breast Cancer: The Whole Story

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Posted by Derek

Here's an excellent roundup of the Avastin story, referenced in an earlier post here.

I have to say, I've been disappointed in some of the commentary on this issue (which that article goes into as well). Too many people have jumped right to the conclusion that yep, here's what the new health care plan is going to do to us, yank life-saving medicines out of our hands because they cost too much. Well, I think that the health care bill was a disastrous idea, myself, and at the same time I still think that Avastin doesn't deserve approval for metastatic breast cancer.

The best evidence we have is that Avastin doesn't help these patients and may well even hurt them. That would be true even if it were free. And remember, off-label use is still perfectly legal. Anyone who wishes to spend their own money on something that does not appear to work - and that Wall Street Journal editorial aside, Avastin really doesn't, here - is free to do so. Getting everyone else to pay for it is quite another thing, and you'd think that conservatives and libertarians would find that argument more appealing than they seem to.

The FDA meets to discuss this issue on September 17. I wish everyone who's gearing up to write editorials about the decision would get up to speed on the facts before then.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cancer | Drug Prices | Regulatory Affairs


1. Heather Madrone on August 30, 2010 12:41 PM writes...

My dad was in an Avastin trial for glioblastoma multiforme. The trial showed Avastin to be helpful for that form of cancer, and my dad probably lived a couple of years longer than he would have without it.

That said, Avastin is a drug with very serious side effects. It's not something to fool around with if you don't really need it.

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2. RKN on August 30, 2010 12:57 PM writes...

Getting everyone else to pay for it is quite another thing, and you'd think that conservatives and libertarians would find that argument more appealing than they seem to.

To the extent that patients' Avastin prescriptions are paid for by tax dollars, most libertarians have been loud and clear in their objection to that.

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3. Dan on August 30, 2010 11:22 PM writes...

Disastrous idea huh. As opposed to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and our adventure in Iraq. I'll take the health care 'disaster' any day. Get some perspective man.

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4. BlueBaron on August 31, 2010 2:53 AM writes...

The disaster is the current health care system. It's a shame that we got a crappy fix to it, but it's only bad because it doesn't go far enough. We have a monster of a system that can bankrupt even well meaning Americans who paid into the system and suffered a horrible accident. Even the best of us could lose our jobs, be uninsurable, and then be unlucky enough to have a health problem.

That health care companies are trying to sell expensive treatments that have a negative outcome for patients, then get our premium dollars to pay for that while insurance drops coverage for us when we need it; that's the real travesty.

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5. watcher on August 31, 2010 2:27 PM writes...

I am not interested in Derek Lowe's opinion of the health care reform. He obviously is someone with good health insurance, good health coverage, good income, so is not interested in trying to improve and correct much what is wrong with the country's health care issues.

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6. Merel on October 4, 2010 5:35 AM writes...

@BlueBaron Is there any website with figures about the profits farmaceutical companies make on for instance, cancer treatments.

I'm from the Netherlands, health care is almost fully paid for by our government and NGO's invest in cancer research. I once mentioned that the NGO investments aren't necessary to develop medicine against cancer, because the market will take care of the costs. Unfortunately I can't find the figures to support or falsify my statement.

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7. Rob Mandel on December 16, 2010 4:18 PM writes...

Isn't that an issue for the doctors and patients to determine? It may well be ineffective for some, helpful for others. I don't know, and I'm sure the studies could show both.

But that, and all medical decisions, ought to be made in the marketplace, free from any and all governmental regulatory intervention.

Even if it doesn't "work", why ought someone be prevented from using it?

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