RPT-UPDATE1-Four LA Avastin patients lost vision in injected eye

Thu Sep 1, 2011 11:54pm EDT

(Repeats to spell out number in headline)

* Cases occurred at Los Angeles VA medical center

* FDA warned of Florida eye infections on Tuesday (Updates with comment from VA spokesman)

LOS ANGELES, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Four patients at the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs medical center who were injected with Avastin lost vision in the injected eye, a VA spokesman said.

Avastin, made by Roche Holding AG (ROG.VX), is a cancer drug that is commonly used to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases.

Avastin is not approved by regulators for treating eye disease, but it costs only about $50 an injection, compared with some $2,000 for Roche's Lucentis, which is approved for treatment of eye diseases.

Earlier this year, four patients at the VA hospital in Nashville suffered infections from bacterially contaminated Avastin.

The latest cases follow an alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday that repackaged injections of the Avastin, also known as bevacizumab, had caused serious eye infections in 12 Miami-area patients.

The company has argued for years the process of dividing up doses creates the risk of contamination.

The Florida injections were traced to a single pharmacy located in Hollywood, Florida. The pharmacy repackaged the Avastin from sterile injectable, preservative-free vials into smaller single-use syringes.

The pharmacy then distributed the Avastin to multiple eye clinics.

In the Los Angeles cases, no contaminant has yet been identified, Tillman said.

In its alert on Tuesday, the FDA did not tell doctors to avoid using Avastin, only to be careful about contamination.

"Health care professionals should ensure that drug products are obtained from appropriate, reliable sources and properly administered," it said. (Reporting by Deena Beasley; editing by Andre Grenon and Carol Bishopric)

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