Results of Avastin-Lucentis match-up due May 1

The big eye study results are almost here. Researchers will present data from a head-to-head study comparing the Roche eye treatment Lucentis with its cancer-drug rival Avastin at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting May 1. However, the results might hit the press a few days earlier in a leading medical journal.

Both meds are used to treat macular degeneration; however, doses of the purpose-built Lucentis cost many times more than doses of Avastin, which has to be repackaged for sale in quantities small enough for eye use. Lucentis injections cost about $2,000 apiece, while the small doses of Avastin--which is expensive when used as indicated, for cancer--cost only about $50 each.

Lucentis is approved specifically to treat age-related macular degeneration, while Avastin is used off-label for the purpose. Roche's Genentech unit has fought that off-label use, citing FDA concerns about the repackaging process. The company even tried to curtail distribution to the compounding pharmacies that divide Avastin into smaller doses. But doctors protested, and the company relented, at least partly.

Because eye doctors found Avastin helpful in treating macular degeneration--at a fraction of the price--the National Eye Institute decided to fund a study comparing it with Lucentis. Billions of dollars in Lucentis sales are at risk, Reuters notes, if the data shows Avastin works just as well. Analysts are expecting just that. But safety questions might remain to cloud the comparison.

- read the Reuters story