Genentech hedged early on Avastin

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FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg's final decision to rescind Avastin's indication for metastatic breast cancer came in November. But ad spending to support the brand had dropped sharply more than a year earlier.

“We ceased all promotion of Avastin for breast cancer in August 2010, including journal ads,” said Charlotte Arnold, spokeswoman for Roche's Genentech unit. “In 2011, we also significantly cut back our spend on journal advertisement for Avastin across all the cancer types it's approved for.”

Avastin remains approved for advanced colorectal, lung, kidney and brain cancer. Across those tumor types, Genentech spent $611,000 on professional journal advertising for the first nine months of 2011. According to IMS Health, that was down from $2.2 million for all of 2010.

“There was a definite change in advertising patterns at the close of 2010 and beginning of 2011,” observed Jerry Maynor, the US marketing and business development director for Cegedim Strategic Data. “Avastin had been advertising most months in all of the oncology journals that we audit; that dropped to half of the journals in the spring. Monthly same-journal spending fell as well.” Maynor said he detected no DTC media spend for 2011.

The FDA first moved to pull the indication more than a year ago, saying that new studies didn't confirm that the drug was helping patients. That followed an advisory committee meeting in July 2010 and panel vote to recommend rescinding the approval in breast cancer. On the heels of that meeting, Genentech agreed with the FDA to stop promoting Avastin for breast cancer, Arnold said.

While Genentech appealed the FDA's decision a year ago, and Hamburg recently encouraged the company “to consider additional studies to identify if there are select subgroups of women suffering from breast cancer who might benefit from [Avastin],” Genentech has no plans to appeal this time around, said Arnold.
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