First published 4/28/11 on Gooz News
I first noted the controversy surrounding the use of Genentech’s Avastin instead of Genentech’s Lucentis for advanced macular degeneration (AMD) in 2006, shortly after the Guardian in the UK broke the story about how ophthalmologists around the world were opting for the cheaper version of what was essentially the same drug. Long story short: Genentech in the early 2000s began selling large vials of Avastin to block the formation of new blood vessels when treating colon and other cancers. Ophthamologists quickly discovered minute injections of Avastin were extremely effective in treating AMD, which involves excess blood vessel formation in the eye. The cost of small injections to break up those blood vessels was about $50 a shot. Genentech then developed a variation of Avastin called Lucentis, ran a clinical trial testing it in AMD patients, got it approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and began charging nearly $2,000 for the shots, which are needed monthly. The co-pays for seniors alone could run into the thousands of dollars a year. The National Institutes of Health, responding to a cost-driven controversy, authorized a clinical trial comparing the two.