Avastin Treatment for Macular Degeneration and Cancer

Dr. Philip J. Rosenfeld of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute opened the door for ground breaking macular degeneration treatments when he showed positive results using Bevacizumab or Avastin to treat wet macular degeneration. Dr. Rosenfeld showed that patients treated with Avastin showed improved vision in as little as one week. More recently, the FDA approved Avastin for the use as a treatment in some breast cancers.

Bevacizumab or Avastin is a monoclonal antibody or simply an antibody that is an identical clone of a single parent cell. In 2004, the FDA approved the use of Avastin to treat some forms of cancers, in particular colon cancers as either a first or second line treatment.  Ophthalmologists have more recently used Avastin to treat wet macular degeneration by injecting the drug into the eye.

Avastin showed an amazing property that saw it block or inhibit the growth of blood vessels in pre-existing tumours. Tumors in general need to grow additional blood vessels to be able to reach a certan size. As the first clinically available angiogenisis inibitor in the United States, Avastin could now block the growth of these additional blood vessels.

Why was this significant?

With the growth of blood vessels slowed or in some cases halted, the cancer could no longer grow. This was a major advancement for cancer treatment.

Avastin was originally approved for treating some small cell lung cancers and metastatic colon cancer. Metastatic cancers are cancers that can spread from one organ to another or from one part of the body to another.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided GenenTech, the company that developed Avastin, with approval to use the drug for the treatment of some breast cancers. Plus, there are many other clinical trials currently underway testing this drug for other forms of cancer such as matastatic ovarian cancer.

One of the major controversies surrounding this drug is in its off-label uses. Many ophthalmologists and retinal specialists have been using this drug for the treatment of wet macular degeneration, an eye disease that is characterised by the growth of abnormal blood vessels which results in leakages below the macula, resulting in scarring and loss of central vision. Avastin has been shown to not only halt the growth of these abnormal blood vessels, but in many cases reverse the damage, and restore a patients sight.

Avastin has been an effective treatment for Cancer and for macular degeneration.  While officially approved as a cancer drug, many ophthalmologists and retinal specialists have been using Avastin a a treatment for wet macular degeneration, an eye disease characterized by the abnormal growth of blood vessels which results in leakages and scaring of the macula, resulting in the loss of central vision.

GenenTech, the company that produces Avastin, has indicated that the use of the drug is not recommended for use in the eye because of the risks associated with things such as stroke.  It recommends that Avastin be used as a cancer drug only.

Eye specialists however disagree, indicating that Avastin is not administered in the full strength when injected into the eye.  The drug is split into multiple individual treatments when are injected into the eye affected with macular degeneration over the course of several months.

GenenTech went as far as attempting to limit the supply of Avastin for use in the eye until a severe backlash erupted from eye care professionals.  Many have argued that the company’s motives were centered around an FDA approved macular degeneration drug – Lucentis, which carries a much higher price tag than Avastin.

Avastin, while it is a cancer drug, its successes in treating macular degeneration have been well documented throughout the world.  With several studies underway to compare the effectiveness of Avastin and Lucentis for macular degeneration treatments, the safety of the drug for use in the eye should be known in the near future.