Five patients being treated for eye disease went blind after being injected with injection drug Avastin at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Los Angeles, according to The New York Times.
Avastin is a cancer drug, but is commonly used to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases because it costs only about $50 an injection, compared with some $2,000 for Roche's Lucentis, which is approved for treatment of eye diseases.
“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the veterans affected by the Avastin eye injections,” the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement.
The latest cases of blindness follow an alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday that repackaged injections of the Avastin, also known as bevacizumab, had caused eye serious eye infections in 12 patients in Miami, Fla.
In its alert on Tuesday, the FDA did not tell doctors to avoid using Avastin, only to be careful about contamination. Some of the patients lost all of the remaining vision in their treated eye, health regulators said.
Health care professionals should ensure that drug products are obtained from appropriate, reliable sources and properly administered, it said.
Genentech, maker of the drug, has argued for years that the process of dividing up doses creates the risk of contamination.
The tainted Florida injections were traced to a single pharmacy located in Hollywood, Fla.
The pharmacy repackaged the Avastin from sterile injectable 100 mg/4 ml, single-use, preservative-free vials into individual 1 ml single-use syringes, then distributed the Avastin to multiple eye clinics, FDA said in a statement to health care professionals.
In the Los Angeles cases, no contaminant has yet been identified, the Times reported.
The recent incidents could lead doctors and patients to use the far more expensive Lucentis instead of Avastin.
The cases may also raise questions about compounding pharmacies, which prepare customized drugs for patients, including doses of Avastin to treat eye problems.