Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Cure For The Most Common Cause Of Blindness?

A new drug has been identified, which has been found to prevent vision loss caused by age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmologists find that the drug, Lucentis (ranibizumab), also improves sight for periods extending to two years in patients suffering from this disorder. The drug has also been found to be a better therapy than the existing treatment that doctors prescribe, that is, use of verteporfin, which combines drug and light therapy.

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the No 1 cause of blindness among adults over 50 years in the U.S. Experts say one in three people will be affected by the disorder by the time they reach age 75, and it will assume epidemic proportions as the population ages.

The disease is known to destroy a person's sharp central vision incapacitating him or her in doing daily chores, including recognition of faces. Nearly 90 per cent of the cases are a "dry" form of the disease, while wet, or neovascular, AMD, which accounts for the rest, is on account of abnormal blood vessel formation, resulting in fluid leakage and subsequent damage to the vision cells in the eye.

The effectiveness of Lucentis in wet AMD has been corroborated in two new studies, which are reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. The drug secured the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June.

However, at $1,950 per treatment, the price of the drug has raised an outcry -- particularly since there may be an equally effective alternative that would only cost $17 to $50 per shot. The cheaper option is the colon cancer drug Avastin (bevacizumab). Ophthalmologists say that it works in the same way, is just as safe and effective, and might even require less frequent injections.


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