Five More Avastin Eye Infections Reported, This Time in Los Angeles

Five more patients have suffered serious, blinding eye infections following injections of the cancer drug <"">Avantis to treat wet macular degeneration. According to The New York Times, all five of the infections occurred last month in people who received Avastin eye injections at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Los Angeles.

This brings to 21 the number of people who have sustained eye infections because of this off-label use of Avastin. According to an alert issued by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), 12 such infections occurred among people in the Miami, Florida, area. As we reported yesterday, four others occurred in patients who received Avastin injections through the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, part of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Though Avastin has not been approved by the FDA as a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, doctors use it this way because it is much cheaper than Lucentis, a medication that is approved to treat wet macular degeneration. Both drugs are made by Genentech, and work in a similar way, but Avastin only costs around $50/dose while Lucentis comes in around $2,000/dose. Avastin, however, is sold in larger doses, so in order to be used for eye injections, it must be divided into smaller doses. During this dividing, which is usually done by a pharmacy, bacterial contamination can occur.

The FDA traced the Florida infections to a Hollywood pharmacy that had repacked the Avastin from sterile injectable 100 mg/4 mL, single-use, preservative-free vials into individual 1 mL single-use syringes and distributed them to eye clinics. In the case of the Tennessee incidents, the Avastin was prepared in the pharmacy of the V.A. hospital in Nashville.

In Los Angeles, all five victims received their injections of Avastin on August 12 at the V.A. Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in the San Fernando Valley, the New York Times said. All of the injections were prepared by the pharmacy at the main campus of the V.A. Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in Los Angeles. So far, the contaminant that caused the California patients to go blind has not been identified.

“We all ended up in the E.R. over the course of the next few days and put together the connection,” one patient told the Times. He said most of the patients lost all of their vision in the eye that received the injection.

In a statement, Veterans Affairs said that its Los Angeles medical center had suspended use of Avastin for macular degeneration on August 15 and was now buying Lucentis to resume therapy for the 30 to 40 treatments it administers a week.

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