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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

FDA Panel Approves Drug for Rare Colorectal Cancer

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Dec. 14, 1999 (Washington) -- A new approach for treating a deadly, inherited form of colorectal cancer took a major step toward approval Tuesday following a recommendation by an advisory committee to the FDA. The drug, Celebrex (celecoxib), got the OK from the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee as an additional therapy to control familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a disease in which there is a growth of precancerous polyps in the colon. The vote was 14 in favor and 1 against approval.

Manufactured by G.D. Searle and Co., Celebrex is widely used as a painkiller. "It's a step. This is an agent that clearly reduces polyps, and the postmarketing studies are going to be the really significant ones [and] will tell patients how much benefit they're likely to get," acting panel chair Derek Raghavan, MD, of the University of Southern California, tells WebMD.

In a trial on 83 patients, 400 mg of Celebrex was compared to placebo among those with FAP. After six months, gastroenterologists looked at videotapes and pictures of the colons of the treatment groups to determine if the drug inhibited the growth of hundreds or thousands of precancerous growths in the colon, which characterize the condition.

A count of polyps marked by "tattoos" at the beginning of the study shows that Celebrex was about 25% more effective than the placebo in keeping polyps in check. Currently, there are no FDA-approved drugs for FAP.

Speaking for the drug, Ernest Hawk, MD, of the Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), says patients in the study also experienced reductions in polyp size ranging from about 30% to 80% while taking the drug. NCI is collaborating with Searle in researching Celebrex for a variety of tumors including cancers of the esophagus, skin, and throat, says Gary Gordon, MD, director of cancer prevention and treatment at Searle.

Celebrex was generally well tolerated. However, one patient had a severe allergic reaction to the drug.

The hope is that since Celebrex appears to inhibit polyp growth, the drug would delay the need for polyp removal or, ultimately, surgery to treat colorectal cancer. Although only one in 10,000 people will get FAP, it has a devastating effect. Left untreated, almost 90% of those with the genetic error go on to develop cancer by age 45.

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