Penn study: Costly eye drug no safer than alternative

When critics lamented the treatment of macular degeneration with a drug that costs up to 40 times as much as the alternative, physicians defended the practice by pointing to infections in patients who got the cheaper drug.
That argument no longer holds water, according to a new University of Pennsylvania study.
Researchers reviewed insurance claims data for 58,612 patients who received more than 380,000 injections of the two drugs, Avastin and Lucentis, and found they posed equally low risks of infection.
Lucentis is priced at up to $2,000 a dose, while Avastin costs $50 to $80 a dose. Both are made by California-based Genentech, are owned by the Roche Group in Switzerland, and work in the same way, by inhibiting the growth of abnormal blood vessels.
But Lucentis comes in ready-to-use vials from the manufacturer, whereas Avastin is packaged in much larger doses because, though chemically similar, it is designed as a cancer treatment. Doctors who use Avastin for macular degeneration must have the drug divided into smaller doses by a compounding pharmacy – a use that is legal but considered off-label.
Physicians have reported scattered incidences of endophthalmitis, a serious eye infection, in patients treated with Avastin, including 12 such cases tied to one compounding pharmacy in Florida. But the rate of infection associated with Lucentis is similar – just one in several thousand cases – according to the new study, published Thursday by JAMA Ophthalmology.
The findings come as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed that Avastin be used within five days of repackaging……..