VA Says No Avastin Eye Injections Pending Infection Probe

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has stopped using the cancer drug <"">Avastin to treat age-related, wet macular degeneration, following reports that this off-label use of Avastin may have caused potentially-blinding eye infections in some patients. According to a Reuters report, the VA will reassess Avastin for treating macular degeneration after it is done investigating the eye infection cases.

Avastin eye infection clusters have been reported in connection with two VA facilities. As we reported earlier this month, four people sustained such infections following Avastin injections through the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, part of the VA. Five were also reported among people who received Avastin eye injections at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Los Angeles.

In total, 21 people have suffered such infections in the past several months, and in some cases, patients lost their site. According to an alert issued by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in August, the other 12 occurred among people in the Miami, Florida, area.

According to Reuters, VA facilities have been directed to consider alternative therapies to treat macular degeneration, including Lucentis. Both Avastin and Lucentis are made by Genentech, and work in a similar manner. But as we’ve reported previously, while Avastin only cost around $50/dose, 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 repackaged. When the drug is divided into smaller doses , usually by a compounding pharmacy, bacterial contamination can occur.

Despite the infection risk, Reuters reported that pressure has been building to increase Avastin for macular degeneration in an effort to cut costs to Medicare and other health programs. This after a government-sponsored study published in The New England Journal of Medicine determined that both Avastin and Lucentis are equally effective in treating the eye disorder, though Avastin carries more risks.

Last week, the Office of Inspector General recommended that Medicare look at how much money could be saved if it reimbursed at the Avastin rate. Between 2008 and 2009, Medicare spent $40 million on Avastin treatments for just under a million people, while during the same period, the government health insurance program paid $1.1 billion to treat just under 700,000 people with Lucentis. According to a report from Bloomberg News, Democratic Senators Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown of Ohio have also pushed the Medicare program to declare Avastin necessary to fight wet age-related macular degeneration.

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