Five patients treated for eye disease were blinded after being injected with Roche Holding AG's Avastin at the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center, The New York Times reports.
The most recent cases of blindness follow the warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday that repackaged injections of Avastin, also known as bevacizumab, had caused serious eye infections in 12 Miami-area patients. All of those cases were traced to a single compounding pharmacy in Hollywood, Fla., which it did not identify.
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.
To use Avastin for eye disease, a vial meant for a cancer patient must be divided into numerous tiny doses and each dose placed in a syringe for injection into the eye. The extra handling increases the risk of bacterial contamination and other problems.
In its alert, the FDA did not tell doctors to avoid using Avastin, only to be careful about contamination.
The recent incidents could lead doctors and patients to use the far more expensive Lucentis instead of Avastin.
The cases are also likely to raise questions about compounding pharmacies, which prepare customized drugs for patients, including doses of Avastin to treat eye problems.