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First Cancer Drug That Cuts Off Blood Is OK'd

Prevents formation of new blood vessels

THURSDAY, Feb. 26, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the first in a class of drugs whose aim is to treat disease by cutting off its nourishing blood supply.

The first drug out of the gate is Avastin, a bioengineered treatment for colorectal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Avastin is what's called an angiogenesis inhibitor, and it works by preventing the formation of new blood vessels.

The approval culminates 34 years of research into this mode of attacking cancer and other diseases, and is vindication for Dr. Judah Folkman, a Harvard surgeon who first proposed the idea. The Boston Globe reports that the research has been on a "roller-coaster ride of promises and failures," and two years ago many experts nearly gave up on the approach.

A dozen other angiogenesis inhibitors are awaiting approval, and many more are in the final stages of testing. Researchers are taking aim at treating 35 diseases with this class of medicine. But Avastin's success "has certainly changed the thinking in the field," Folkman told the Globe. "It's sort of like Sputnik."

When given to patients along with traditional chemotherapy, Avastin extended their lives by about five months, according to the FDA. The drug is made by Genentech, Inc., of South San Francisco, Calif.

To learn more about Avastin and its approval, visit the FDA.

Consumer News