Harvard Health Letter

Good news about new macular degeneration drugs

Ranibizumab (Lucentis) and bevacizumab (Avastin) have become the drugs most commonly used to treat the wet form of macular degeneration. Both drugs are administered with injections into the eye. Wet macular degeneration is the form of the disease that is most likely to lead to severe vision loss; "wet" in this case refers to bleeding from the tiny blood vessels in the retina.

A study of Medicare claims for treatment of macular degeneration for 2005 and 2006, the years the drugs came into use, shows neither Lucentis (which is FDA-approved for this use) nor Avastin (a cancer drug that is being used "off-label" for macular degeneration) were associated with any greater risk for death or heart attack over a one-year period compared with the treatments they replaced, which included photodynamic therapy and a drug called pegaptanib (Macugen). Differences in strokes and bleeding events didn't reach statistical significance.

This study was done in the context of some concern about the safety of Lucentis and Avastin. Both drugs are angiogenesis inhibitors — drugs that slow the formation of blood vessels, which is desirable in an eye with wet macular degeneration.

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