It is the leading cause of legal blindness in older Americans. Every year 250,000 people in the US are treated for age-related macular degeneration. Now, there's more and more evidence that a cancer drug doctors have been relying on to help patients, works just as well as a much more expensive option.
Harriet Corstvet has a passion for reading about politics. "People don't realize that their opinion is being swayed!" Harriet Corstvet said.
Opthalmologist, Suresh Chandra, is using an injectable colon cancer drug on Harriet to shrink vision-impairing blood vessels in her eye. It's not FDA approved for that, but there is growing evidence Avastin does it just as well as Lucentis, which is approved for AMD.
"Avastin had the same visual results at the end as Lucentis," Ophthalmologist at the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Suresh Chandra, MD said. However, Avastin is $50 a dose and Lucentis is $2,000 a dose.
A federal report shows in '08 and '09, Medicare paid physicians $1.1 billion for 700,000 Lucentis treatments and just $40 million for many more Avastin treatments.
The doctor says Avastin saves patients with co-pays a lot of money and could save people's vision in countries where Lucentis is just too expensive. Harriet said without it, "I would have for certain, would have been completely blind."
Avastin and Lucentis are made by the same drug maker. The doctor says the off-label use of Avastin has become the standard of care for AMD, but in 2011, there was concern about using the drug among some doctors.
The New York Times reports tainted doses of Avastin left 21 people blind. Dr. Chandra believes the incidents were isolated and is now under control.