$50 eye drug found equal to $2,000 dose
Study may alter patient choices
By Deborah Kotz
April 29, 2011
An expensive eye injection that’s approved to treat macular degeneration — the most common cause of age-related blindness — works no better than a much cheaper drug at preventing vision loss. That’s the finding of a long-awaited study published online yesterday by the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study, involving more than 1,200 patients with the “wet’’ form of macular degeneration, found no difference between those who were randomly treated for one year with the more expensive drug Lucentis — which costs about $2,000 a dose — and the cheaper drug Avastin, which costs $50.
“Lucentis and Avastin were equivalent for visual acuity,’’ said study leader Dr. Daniel Martin, chair of ophthalmology at the Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute during a press conference. “When we looked at the number of letters gained or lost on an eye chart, the lost or gained lines of vision, the two drugs are virtually identical.’’
For about five years, doctors have been treating most macular degeneration patients “off-label’’ with Avastin (bevacizumab), which is primarily a cancer treatment, since it’s chemically similar to Lucentis (ranibizumab). (They use a fraction of the dose given cancer patients.) But there was always uncertainty as to whether it was just as safe and effective. Experts say the new study indicates that it is...