Roche’s Avastin Boosts Risks For Eye Patients, Analysis Finds

Roche Holding AG (ROG)’s Avastin cancer medicine increases the risk of death and stroke compared with the Lucentis drug when injected into the eye.

Avastin raised the risk of early death by 11 percent and the risk of hemorrhagic stroke by 57 percent compared with Lucentis, Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis AG (NOVN) said today in an e-mailed statement, citing analysis of Medicare data carried out by Johns Hopkins University and presented at a U.S. medical conference. Lucentis was developed by Novartis and Roche’s Genentech unit.

Avastin is sometimes prescribed for unapproved, or “off- label,” use against the most common form of blindness in the elderly because the drug costs $50 per shot, while Lucentis costs about $2,000 for each injection. A study published April 28 found that Avastin was as effective as Lucentis for treating the condition known as wet age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.

The data “underscore the importance of drug design with the patient in mind -- aiming for an appropriate balance of efficacy and safety for a given indication and patient population,” Trevor Mundel, global head of development at Novartis, said in the statement.

Lucentis, which works in a similar way to Avastin, won U.S. approval as an AMD treatment in 2006 based on the drug’s ability to slow vision loss in patients with an advanced form of the condition. About one-third of patients involved in clinical trials had an improvement in vision. In the U.S., Roche sells both drugs, while in the rest of the world, Roche sells Avastin and Novartis sells Lucentis.

The latest analysis of Avastin and Lucentis was presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dermot Doherty in Geneva at ddoherty9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net

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