VA Stops Use of Avastin for Eye Infections

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs this week announced that it has discontinued its use of Roche’s popular drug, Avastin, as a treatment for eye disease, pending the results of an investigation into the safety and efficacy of the drug when used for ophthalmologic purposes. The VA’s decision to drop the drug was ultimately based on the FDA’s recent rejection of using Avastin as a treatment for breast cancer due to the risk of severe bleeding. The announcement certainly carries significant meaning, as the Department of Veterans Affairs is responsible for providing healthcare services to approximately 5 million Americans.

Roche’s Lucentis has been approved as a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, yet the company’s blockbuster cancer drug, Avastin, is the product routinely prescribed as an off-label treatment for the disease. Reason being, Avastin, which works in a similar manner as Lucentis, is far less expensive per injection. However, Avastin is currently under intense scrutiny over claims that the drug, when used to treat eye disorders, can lead to serious infections and even blindness.

Terence Hurly, a spokesman for Roche, recently stated that Lucentis, not Avastin, is the most appropriate medication to treat age-related macular degeneration. He went on to note that, “there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests injecting off-label Avastin into a person’s eye may pose greater risks than Lucentis.”

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