Here's some vindication for all the ophthalmologists who've been fighting for continued access to Roche's cancer drug Avastin. A small study in wet age-related macular degeneration patients pitting Avastin against the company's designated wet AMD drug Lucentis found that both drugs worked equally well, Boston University researchers say. "[V]isual and anatomic outcomes at one year failed to show a significant difference between both groups," lead author Manju Subramanian says in a statement.
The study enrolled only 22 patients, so it's not exactly definitive. Genentech immediately jumped on the results, saying that they aren't statistically significant. But the researchers say their results warrant further study, at the very least. Luckily, the National Institutes of Health has been conducting a head-to-head study of the two drugs in macular degeneration.
The Avastin-versus-Lucentis debate has a considerable history. Although Lucentis is FDA-approved to treat wet AMD, it's some $2,000 per injection. So price-conscious eye doctors have been using Avastin, which, when administered in the small quantities needed to treat the eyes, costs only about $50 per treatment.
Avastin isn't FDA-approved for the use, and with Lucentis for sale, Roche has no incentive to seek the agency's OK. Genentech (now owned by Roche) tried to tighten up its distribution channels to keep ophthalmologists from using Avastin, but the ensuing outcry from doctors and patients prompted the company to back off a bit. The NIH began its study in 2008, and researchers are expected to finish collecting data by the end of 2010, with final results to come in 2012.