A Food and Drug Administration panel today voted 6-0 to halt the use of cancer drug Avastin for the treatment of breast cancer, saying studies have failed to show Avastin is effective for that purpose. The recommendation came after two days of testimony from patients, doctors, and advocacy groups.
The panel faced several tearful accounts of women, young and old, who believed Avastin saved their lives.
Dozens of protesters, many wearing pink T-shirts and carrying signs that included “Save Avastin” and “I question the FDA’s right to take life from a woman,” demonstrated outside the agency’s Silver Spring headquarters as the hearing began Tuesday, accusing budget-conscious government bureaucrats of rationing care by getting between patients and life-saving drugs. The committee then heard several hours of often-emotional pleas from patients and family members who believed the drug was keeping them or their loved ones alive, as well as from advocates for patients suffering from other cancers worried about the impact on their treatment. The benefits of the drug have been shown to outweigh the risk for other cancers.
Crystal Hanna, a mother of two who will celebrate her 36th birthday Friday. “I’m a testament that the drug does work…I’m not just a statistic,” she said. “Keep breast cancer on the label so that I and others like me can celebrate more birthdays.”
By pulling FDA approval, it gives insurance companies the ability to reject the use of the drug for breast cancers. Avastin costs up to $100,000 a year.
This is an interesting test case for Obamacare. Ultimately, Democrats have argued that a regulatory body, such as the FDA, should regulate what is paid for, and what isn’t, by health insurers. Previously, many liberals had attacked insurance companies for denying care in these situation. Now, however, it is the U.S. government, and not ‘evil’ insurers left to blame.
Scientifically, the FDA panel is on solid ground. No studies have shown a significant benefit from Avastin in breast cancer patients. Politically, however, is another story all together. Will Democrats now fight to defend the FDA ruling, in the face of young mothers and grandmothers pleading for the drug? If they cannot do it for Avastin, which is very expensive and of questionable benefit, then it is unlikely that they will ever be able to do it.