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Local Doctors Leading Way In Ground-Breaking Eye Research

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Local doctors are leading the way in a medical breakthrough that is helping people see again.

Those doctors are using a cancer drug to treat macular degeneration.  Eleanor Duncan began losing her vision two years ago.

“It got so bad I couldn’t see straight ahead. My left eye did all the work,” explained Duncan.  “I was going blind.”

Eleanor was suffering from macular degeneration. It’s a condition where blood vessels invade and bleed, damaging the retina.  It is the leading cause of blindness in older American’s.

That’s when Dr. Arun Patel and his colleagues at retinal consultants here in Sacramento asked Eleanor to take part in their study.

“It was sponsored by the national eye institute. It’s the first trial of a head to head comparison of a drug made by the same company that the government has asked to see in fact which drug is better,” said Dr. Patel.

Both drugs are injected into the eye. The first drug, Lucentis is FDA approved.  The second, Avastin, is a cancer drug used off label as an effective treatment.

The big difference? Price! Avastin costs $55 dollars a shot while Lucentis is more than $2,000!
 
The results of the study show that both drugs are equally beneficial.

“It’s good news for patients and good news for our health care system,” said Dr. Patel.

About 25 percent of patients saw improvements with either drug. Ninety percent stopped their vision loss all together.

Dr. Patel believes this could change practice patterns.

“I suspect that people using the more expensive drug routinely will now have to justify why they are starting with the more expensive drug,” said Dr. Patel.

Eleanor may have to go back for monthly treatments she says it’s worth it. Her vision has improved to 20/20.

More results are due out again next year.

For now, drug maker Genetech says it has no plans to seek FDA approval for Avastin to treat macular degeneration.  It will continue to be used off-label by physicians.

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