Five VA patients blinded by Avastin injections: report

LOS ANGELES Thu Sep 1, 2011 11:52pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Five patients being treated for eye disease were blinded after being injected with Roche Holding AG's Avastin at the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs medical center, according to the New York Times.

VA officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The latest cases of blindness 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.

Avastin is a cancer drug, but is commonly used to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases because it costs only about $50 an injection, compared with some $2,000 for Roche's Lucentis, which is approved for treatment of eye diseases.

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

The tainted Florida injections were traced to a single pharmacy located in Hollywood, Florida. The pharmacy repackaged the Avastin from sterile injectable 100 mg/4 ml, single-use, preservative-free vials into individual 1 ml single-use syringes.

The pharmacy then distributed the Avastin to multiple eye clinics.

In the Los Angeles cases, no contaminant has yet been identified, the Times reported.

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)

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