National Medical Announcement Makes Drug More Affordable for Seniors

Retina Consultants of Southwest Florida is One of Two Florida Clinical Trial Sites

May, 2011

Two drugs used to treat Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) are equally effective, despite the fact that one (Lucentis) costs 40 times more than competitor Avastin, according to The National Eye Institute (NEI)of the National Institutes of Health.The NEI announcement has profound implications for the pocketbooks and treatment of Southwest Florida senior citizens with AMD, the leading cause of legal blindness among older Americans. Retina Consultants of Southwest Florida, with offices in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, is one of only two sites in Florida and 43 in the United States to participate in the clinical trial that compares the effectiveness of the two drugs manufactured by biotech giant Genentech. Retina Consultants tested the efficacy of the two drugs through its research arm, the National Ophthalmic Research Institute (NORI).
About 1,200 patients nationwide (including those from Retina Consultants) have participated in the clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of Lucentis with the far less expensive drug Avastin in treating “wet” AMD. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula, the part of the eye that is responsible for central vision. These new blood vessels leak blood and fluid, damaging the macula and causing rapid loss of vision.

Lucentis was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 for the treatment of the wet variety of AMD. It costs about $2,000 per month for each injection, with an injection needed about once per month.

Avastin is a drug closely related to Lucentis and was approved in 2004 as a treatment for patients with advanced colorectal cancer. Many retina specialists have used Avastin off-label as an alternative to Lucentis since the cost is only $40 to $50 per injection.

“We are very pleased that the NEI undertook this important study, which we participated in. We are not surprised by the results, as they mirror our own observations at Retina Consultants,” said Dr. Joseph P. Walker, principal investigator at Retina Consultants of Southwest Florida. “An important fact to remember, however, is that your doctor is best suited to determine which drug is best for you, as every patient’s health history is different and there are safety issues to consider for each drug.”

Walker said the NEI announcement provides results from the first year of the clinical trial, which is now underway for a second year.

Retina Consultants of Southwest Florida is the most experienced team of retina specialists in Southwest Florida with combined experience of more than 100 years. Offices are conveniently located in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Naples and Port Charlotte.

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