Lucentis Prevents Elderly Blindness

Retinal disease strikes thousands annually

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WEDNESDAY, July 5, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new drug that's been shown to prevent a major form of blindness among the elderly has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Genentech's Lucentis (ranibizumab), dosed monthly, was approved to treat wet age-related macular degeneration. Wet AMD, a retinal disease that causes irreversible vision loss, affects about 155,000 Americans annually, the FDA said in a statement.

The disease is caused when abnormal blood cells in the retina leak, eventually damaging the portion of the eye responsible for central vision. In clinical testing of Lucentis, nearly 95 percent of users maintained vision after 12 months, compared with 60 percent of participants who did not take Lucentis.

Another Genentech medication, the cancer drug Avastin, is increasingly prescribed "off-label" to treat AMD, the Associated Press reported. While both inhibit the protein that's believed responsible for the disease, Avastin costs about $17 a dose, while Lucentis is likely to cost upwards of $2,000 a dose, the wire service said.

At least 10,000 people with macular degeneration have been legally prescribed Avastin off-label, meaning that the FDA hasn't sanctioned the drug for that purpose, the AP reported. Genentech has said it has no plans to test Avastin's safety and effectiveness for AMD, the wire service said.

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