Myrick taking cancer patients’ concerns to hearing

by Frank DeLoache

U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick plans to raise questions in a U.S. House committee about federal officials’ decision to withdraw approval of the drug Avastin for treatment of breast cancer, according to Charlotte residents who met with her this week.

Shannon Morgan, who has stage-4 breast cancer; her husband, Patrick; and Dr. John Powderly, Shannon Morgan’s doctor who also tests new drugs, met with Myrick and Hal Weatherman, her chief of staff, in Charlotte Monday, Jan. 23.

“I’m concerned about the (Food and Drug Administration’s) decision to rescind the approval of Avastin for metastatic breast cancer patients,” Myrick said in a statement released by her office. “Over 17,000 American women take this drug to treat a disease for which there are very few treatments available. In consultation with their physicians, many metastatic breast cancer patients – including Mrs. Morgan – have found that it has extended their lives and allowed them to live with what is too often a fatal form of cancer. To remove this option for all metastatic breast cancer patients – even those for whom the drug appears to be working – is a mistake. The FDA should reconsider this decision in favor of allowing existing treatment options for this aggressive disease.”

Stage-4 breast cancer is neither curable nor operable, but Powderly and other oncologists treat the cancer with drugs aimed at preventing the cells from multiplying and spreading in the blood stream. Powderly and other doctors across the country say Avastin has proved miraculous in arresting cancer in some stage-4 patients.

Powderly said this week that Avastin is working for Shannon Morgan, who lives in the SouthPark area; for Carol Fleming, a Huntersville resident; and for more than a dozen other patients in the Charlotte region.

But last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would withdraw approval for Avastin for treatment of breast cancer. “The data indicate that the drug does not prolong overall survival in breast-cancer patients,” the announcement said, “or provide a sufficient benefit in slowing disease progression to outweigh the significant risk to patients.”
Genentech, which manufactures Avastin, has appealed the federal decision, and the Morgans, Powderly and others hope the Food and Drug Administration will hold hearings. At Monday’s meeting, Shannon Morgan, who has been taking Avastin for three years, said she’d be glad to testify.

Taylor Sanford, Myrick’s press secretary, said the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, on which Myrick serves, will hold a hearing on Avastin and the federal agency’s decision-making.

Powderly, who operates Carolina BioOncology Institute, affiliated with Presbyterian Hospital-Huntersville, said he hopes any hearing would explore how medical authorities in Europe, studying the same research, continued approval of Avastin for breast cancer.

In a Jan. 10 letter to the editor of USA Today, Shannon Morgan wrote, “I’ve been on Avastin nearly three years. I’m not alone. Every drug has side effects. The FDA seems to forget that the primary side effect of stage-4 cancer is death. We all know cancer is incurable for now, but it is treatable. Let us keep the treatments we have.”

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