More eye patients go blind after Avastin injections

There's another cluster of eye infections, some causing blindness, in patients using Avastin for macular degeneration. This time, the cases cropped up at a Veterans Affairs facility in Los Angeles; 5 people who were injected with Avastin lost vision in the treated eye.

The Genentech cancer drug isn't approved for use in the eye. But ophthalmologists have turned to it as a cheaper alternative to Genentech's Lucentis drug for wet age-related macular degeneration. It costs around $50 per injection, compared with $2,000 or so for the purpose-built drug.

The four LA infections join four at a VA hospital in Nashville and another cluster of 12 in the Miami area. As Reuters notes, Genentech--now owned by Roche--has for years argued that repackaging Avastin into doses small enough for eye use risked contamination. The company moved several years ago to restrict distribution to cut down on Avastin repackaging, but compounding pharmacies continue to prepare doses for ophthalmic use.

That could change, and given the big price difference, it could be a boon for Genentech, but a cost burden for Medicare, which saves big bucks thanks to this off-label Avastin use. The Los Angeles VA has already suspended use of Avastin for macular degeneration and is turning to Lucentis instead, the New York Times reports.

- read the Reuters news