Avastin Are the Risks Worth the Benefits

(June 29, 2012)

Roche’s Genentech’s Avastin is a prescription only cancer medication. Avastin has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment in patients with colorectal cancer, lung cancer and brain cancer. Avastin is designed to interfere with the tumor blood supply, which is thought to be critical to a tumor’s ability to grow and spread in the body, known as metastasis.

Avastin is approved to treat cancer, not eye disease. But many retina specialists use Avastin off-label because it costs only about $50 per injection, compared with $2,000 for Lucentis, also manufactured by Genentech, an is approved as an eye treatment. Insurance companies and government health plans prefer the off-label use of Avastin, for the tremendous savings in cost.

Age related macular degeneration, often called AMD or ARMD, is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans who are age 65 and older. Because people in this group are an increasingly larger percentage of the general population, vision loss from macular degeneration is a growing problem. AMD is degeneration of the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for the sharp, central vision needed to read or drive.
About 1.75 million U.S. residents currently have advanced age-related macular degeneration with associated vision loss, with this number expected to grow to almost 3 million by 2020. The wet form of macular degeneration usually leads to more serious vision loss than the dry form, although the dry form is more common, affecting 85-90% patients.

The cheaper of the two rival macular degeneration treatments could lead to blindness or other adverse events, new research determined. Lucentis and Avastin are both used to treat the wet version of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). But a study from Queen’s University finds that Avastin, traditionally a cancer drug, carries a much higher risk for the development of serious intraocular inflammation, which can lead to blindness.

The study was a review of 1,600 cases of patients who had been given either Lucentis or Avastin. Researcher Sanjay Sharma, M.D. found that study participants who were given Avastin were 12 times more likely to develop intraocular inflammation. As Dr. Sharma points out, “most seniors need numerous injections, so the risk is cumulative.”

There have been many reports of people sustaining severe eye infections, some of who have been blinded, from injections of Avastin, according to health authorities. These incidents demonstrate the risks associated with using the money saving practice of injecting Avastin into the eye to treat macular degeneration.

To use Avastin for eye disease, a vial meant for a cancer patient must be divided into numerous, tiny doses and each dose placed in a syringe for injection into the eye. The extra handling increases the risk of bacterial contamination and other problems. Additional treatments may be needed to treat these complications. Many patients lost whatever remaining vision they had in the treated eye. One patient’s family is suing for $4 million, saying the infection left him blind and with brain damage.

After many patients from three separate clinics developed serious bacterial infections following injections of Avastin, an investigation took place. The injections had been traced back to a compounding pharmacy in Hollywood, Florida, allegedly repackaging intravitreal injections of Avastin from injectable single-use vials into individual single use syringes. Officials said that the repackaging process could open the door for bacterial contamination.

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of using Avastin, you may be entitled to compensation. The lawyers at Gacovino & Lake Associates are available to answer any questions or concerns that you may have regarding injuries resulting from using Avastin, as well as explaining your legal rights.

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