Drug for bowel cancer can treat eye disease

Monday, June 14, 2010

LONDON - A cheap, unlicensed drug originally produced for bowel cancer can treat an eye condition called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), new research has revealed.

Researchers based at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London have found the drug, Bevacizumab (brand name Avastin) working better than alternative treatments.

However, the study’s shortcoming is that it does not directly compare Bevacizumab with Ranibizumab, its main rival, The Guardian said in a report.

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss. It does not cause blindness, but over time it damages the middle of your vision, making it hard to see things that are straight in front of you.

Doctors in the UK started using Bevacizumab to treat AMD in 2005. Much smaller doses were needed to treat AMD than those needed for bowel cancer patients.

In early 2007, a drug called Ranibizumab (brand name Lucentis) was approved for use in Europe. It was similar to Bevacizumab, but had been designed for use in the eye. It was also much more expensive. But it had been tested in people with AMD, and was officially licensed to treat the condition.

The cost to the National Health Service for one injection of Ranibizumab is 761.20 pounds, with a course of 14 injections costing 10,656.80 pounds. A vial of Bevacizumab costs 242.66 pounds, and is likely to supply between 10 and 50 doses.

However, the drug was never officially licensed by its manufacturer as a treatment for AMD (it was only licensed for treating cancer), potentially limiting its use.

For the latest research — with the aim of getting a licence for the drug for treating AMD — researchers looked at 131 people with an average age of 81. Half were given three injections of Bevacizumab into their eye at six-week intervals, with further injections if they needed them, the newspaper said quoting the British Medical Journal.

Other people in the study had photodynamic treatment (which uses injections of a drug that is then activated by shining a laser into the eye), a drug called Pegaptanib, or a placebo treatment.

A year after treatment, people treated with Bevacizumab had better vision. They could read, on average, an extra seven letters on the vision chart during an eye test. People having other treatments or a placebo could read nine fewer letters, on average, than before treatment.

According to the researchers, trials are currently being done comparing Bevacizumab with Ranibizumab and the results are expected in about 18 months.

Bevacizumab, though unlicensed, is prescribed for AMD in many parts of the world.

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