VA puts cork in Avastin use for eye disease

VA hospitals won't be giving patients Avastin to treat an eye disease. In the latest development in the controversial use of Roche's cancer drug for wet age-related macular degeneration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, one of the largest healthcare providers in the U.S., has pulled the plug on the off-label use of the drug for the blindness-causing ailment.

The VA's decision comes amid pressure from members in Congress to get Medicare to back Avastin's use for the eye disease. The drug is just a fraction of the cost of Roche's approved medicine for the eye ailment, Lucentis, but cases of serious eye infections linked to the off-label use of Avastin have raised questions about whether the low-cost option is the best for patients. The VA is investigating the Avastin option for macular degeneration.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has ceased ophthalmologic use of Avastin pending the results of an ongoing investigation and will advise its physicians to consider alternate therapies," the VA announced, as quoted by Reuters. "Once the investigation is complete, VA will reassess how Avastin and similar therapies may be made available for ophthalmologic use and will issue further guidance."

This was good news for Regeneron ($REGN). Shares the Tarrytown, NY-based developer, which is close to a potential approval for a rival drug for the eye disease called Eylea, jumped on news about the VA's decision yesterday and hit a 20-year high during afternoon trading. A panel of experts unanimously supported approval of Eylea this summer and the FDA is expected to make its decision on the drug by November, Reuters reported.

Another issue facing Avastin is the fact that compounding is required before doctors can use the cancer med to treat the eye disease. "The question is whether the VA is comfortable from this point onwards using an off-label product that needs to be compounded by the pharmacy," Yaron Werber, an analyst with Citigroup, told Bloomberg. The analyst added that new regulations for the compounding process could also affect the drug's off-label use.

- read the Bloomberg article
- check out Reuters' report