Photo Credit by Flickr, stevendepolo

Patients with melanoma, a notoriously difficult to treat cancer of the skin, live longer when given Roche's drug Avastin, according to a scientific abstract from Europe's top cancer meeting.

The median overall survival in a Phase II trial was 12.6 months for Avastin plus standard chemotherapy, significantly more than the 8.6 months seen with chemotherapy on its own.

This is the first randomized placebo-controlled trial in metastatic melanoma to demonstrate a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in OS (overall survival), investigator Steven O'Day reported.

The finding, which will be reported in full at the ECCO-ESMO cancer conference in Berlin on Wednesday, is likely to boost interest in Avastin among melanoma specialists, who may use it on a so-called off label basis before formal approval.

The drug is already a blockbuster and a key driver for Roche, with global sales of 5.2 billion Swiss francs ($5.02 billion) in 2008 as a treatment for colon, lung and breast cancers.