At least 16 people in two states have gotten severe eye infections, and some have been blinded, from injections of the drug Avastin, according to health authorities and to lawyers representing the patients.
Genentech, via Associated Press
The cancer drug Avastin has been used by some doctors to treat macular degeneration, an off-label application.
The incidents, in Florida and Tennessee, demonstrate the risks associated with the money-saving practice of injecting Avastin into the eye to treat the wet form of age-relatedmacular degeneration, a common cause of severe vision loss in the elderly.
Avastin, sold by Genentech, is approved to treat cancer, not eye disease. But many retina specialists use Avastin off label because it costs only about $50 an injection, compared with $2,000 for Lucentis, another Genentech drug that has the same mode of action and is approved as an eye treatment.
The off-label use of Avastin has saved Medicare and patients hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But dividing a vial of Avastin into numerous tiny doses for injection into the eye introduces the risk of bacterial contamination. That is apparently what has happened in the cases in Florida and Tennessee.