Kaiser trial supports Avastin eye use

You remember the long-running tussle over Avastin's use as an eye treatment. Genentech (now part of Roche) came up with a dedicated ophthalmalogic drug Lucentis to treat wet macular degeneration, but its high cost--around $2,000--was something of a deterrent, especially because Avastin ran only around $20. So eye docs continued to use the cancer drug off-label to treat WMD. Despite FDA worries that repackaging it might cause contamination, and despite Genentech's efforts to steer them toward Lucentis.

The dispute rose to a head when Genentech tightened up its Avastin supply channels to make it tougher for eye docs to get ahold of the comparatively tiny eye-sized doses of the drug. The company said it shared the FDA's contamination concerns; eye doctors protested. The U.S. government said it would settle the fight once and for all by running a large, head-to-head clinical trial.

Well, a smaller Avastin-vs.-Lucentis trial has wrapped, as CNBC's Mike Huckman reports, and it's not good news for the expensive Lucentis. The Kaiser Permanente researchers who compared the drugs in patients with macular degeneration concluded that both do an equally good job. It's a small study with 450 patients. But it does support the use of Avastin for that off-label purpose. Will the government trial turn out the same way? For that we'll have to wait until early 2011.

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