Roche-funded eye study highlights Avastin risks

The data from Roche's Lucentis-Avastin study is out, and as promised, it shows that using the cancer drug to treat macular degeneration is riskier than using Lucentis for the same purpose. The company-funded analysis of 78,000 Medicare patients found an 11 percent greater risk of death among Avastin patients and a 57 percent higher risk of stroke.

Presented at an ophthalmology conference, the data comes on the heels of results from a U.S. government-funded clinical trial comparing Avastin and Lucentis in patients with macular degeneration. In that study, Avastin proved as effective as the pricier Lucentis, but Avastin patients were more likely to be hospitalized.

Lucentis was developed specifically for use in the eye, but doctors often use Avastin off-label to treat AMD. Repackaged at eye-sized doses, Avastin costs about $50 per injection, compared with the $2,000 or so for Lucentis.

Roche and Novartis, which markets Lucentis in Europe, have been touting the company-funded study. The new data "underscore the importance of drug design with the patient in mind--aiming for an appropriate balance of efficacy and safety for a given indication and patient population," Novartis' global development chief Trevor Mundel said in a statement. "Now more than ever it is clear that Lucentis and Avastin are different, and Novartis believes Lucentis is the best treatment option for patients with wet AMD."

When the U.S. government study data was released a few days ago, the American Academy of Ophthalmology said that both Lucentis and Avastin should be available for AMD treatment. The government data is "critical information that further empowers ophthalmologists to make evidenced-based decisions," the group said.

After this latest study, the AMD Alliance International said "full disclosure" and "informed consent" were important to the group. "The Johns Hopkins' data gives us valuable additional information that patients and physicians need to consider and discuss," the group said (as quoted by Dow Jones).

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