Antidote: The problems facing Avastin

Marc Siegel, MD
Marc Siegel, MD

Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a revolutionary drug. A monoclonal antibody against a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor, it blocks the formation of blood vessels that feed the cancer—and is the first drug of this kind approved for use in the U.S.

Over the past eight years, Avastin has become popular for use against metastatic colon cancer, lung cancer, and recurrent brain cancer. Its effectiveness against advanced breast cancer is controversial.

But few would say that Avastin isn't highly useful, despite such side effects as fatigue, vomiting, and blood clots. It is also expensive, with a yearly course costing about $100,000. However, there is no current shortage of it like there is for several other common chemotherapies due to excess regulation, sterilization procedures, and shrinking profit margins as drugs go generic.

Avastin faces another problem. Counterfeiters make a drug without its main active ingredient. Not only is this dangerous, patients who don't respond to the drug may be called “treatment failures” when the real drug would work.

The FDA is trying to crack down on this. Illegal batches are easy to spot. They list the parent company (Roche), not the subdivision that manufactures Avastin (Genentech). The label is in French, not English as for the real drug. The lot numbers are also different.

Avastin has received undue criticism for false promises, but it remains highly useful—and counterfeit versions remind us of how important the real version is. An important arrow in the oncologist's quiver, Avastin should be championed, not undermined.

Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear
You must be a registered member of MMM to post a comment.

Email Newsletters


What does going "beyond the pill" actually mean? At MM&M's recent inaugural spring conference, audience members heard from real-world companies that are managing the organizational, technological, and promotional challenges inherent in this transition, such as partnering with health neophytes, harnessing technologies that allow deeper engagement with patients, and adopting a new commercial mindset to serve, not sell. Download here.


A wave of more effective anti-cancer drugs has set the oncology world on fire with enthusiasm. While many hail this as a new era, an equally vocal faction questions the money spent for the value gained. This medical and commercial trend report for marketers of anti-cancer modalities touches on many of the latest shifts that have expedited product launches and otherwise impacted promotion and reimbursement of these drugs. Click here.