Using the cancer drug Avastin off-label for eye treatments may carry an increased risk of stroke and death when compared to Lucentis, a drug specifically tailored for the job, researchers have found.Â
According to a study out of Johns Hopkins University that was presented at a meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) on May 4, patients given Avastin to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) were more likely to die or suffer a stroke than patients given the drug Lucentis.
Avastin, developed by Roche Holding AG, is not approved by the FDA to treat AMD, but a recent government-sponsored study found that it was about as effective as Lucentis; which is designed to treat AMD. The major difference between the two is that Avastin is $50 per shot, while Lucentis, distributed by Roche and Novartis, is about $2,000 per shot.
Johns Hopkins researchers found that when they compared patients given Avastin to patients given Lucentis, the Avastin users were linked with a 11% increased risk of death, and a 57% increased risk of stroke.
The study came just days after research sponsored by the National Eye Institute, which found that the drugs carried a comparable effectiveness. It also comes about two and a half years after reports began to surface that Avastin side effects appeared to be linked to severe eye inflammation when used to treat AMD in some patients.
AMD affects more than 2 million Americans over the age of 50 and is the leading cause of blindness in the United States, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. That number is expected to double by 2020 as members of the “baby boomer” generation continue to age.
Avastin (bevacizumab) was approved by the FDA in 2004 for treatment of non-small cell lung cancer and colorectal cancer when combined with chemotherapy. It was developed by Genentech, which was later acquired by Roche. The drug works by restricting blood flow to tumors; starving them. Avastin sales reached nearly $6 billion in 2009.
Avastin received approval to treat breast cancer in February 2008, but had that approval taken away in December after the FDA determined it was not helping breast cancer patients and exposing them to potential Avastin health risks, which may include severe high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart failure, bleeding and hemorrhaging and the development of perforations in the nose, stomach and intestines.