Novartis Wins Approval for Breast Cancer Drug

Easter Island is known for its iconic stone statues. It may also become known as the source of an anti-cancer medication.

Last week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted approval for Novartis‘ (NYSE:NVS) Afinitor, which is derived from bacteria found in Easter Island soil, to treat breast cancer. Afinitor received regulator’s OK after it showed considerable promise in clinical trials, Bloomberg noted.

Rachel Midgett was one patient who received Afinitor as part of those clinical trials. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, she later learned the the cancer had spread to her liver. However, after nine months taking both Afinitor and AstraZeneca‘s (NYSE:AZN) Armidex, she felt well enough to participate in a half-marathon in Las Vegas last winter. While her cancer is growing again, and she faces more new drug regimen’s and surgery, Midgett attributes her survival so far to Afinitor.

Afinitor blocks a protein needed by certain cancer cells to reproduce. By doing so, it boosts the effectiveness of other anti-cancer drugs, giving patients more time and strength to battle the disease. Word of the drug’s success in the trials prompted cancer patients to request it, even before it received FDA approval.

The FDA nod to Afinitor arrives just as the patents for bestselling Novartis drugs like Diovan and Gleevec are about to expire, giving the pharmaceutical maker a potential new source of revenue.

Shares of Novartis slipped about 1% on Monday in a downward-trending market.

The outlook for new anti-breast cancer drugs took a hit after Roche’s (PINK:RHHBY) Avastin failed to show improved survival rates last year and the FDA revoked its approval for breast cancer treatments.

Afinitor reportedly has fewer serious side effects compared to Avastin, though it has been linked to diarrhea, weight loss, mouth ulcers and rashes.

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