Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Lucentis v Avastin Data’

Biotech Strategy Blog is 1 today!  I can’t believe that a year has gone by so quickly!  Before moving on to year 2, I thought a brief review might be interesting.

What have been the top posts on Biotech Strategy Blog this past year?

In terms of total visitors per post:

  1. Results from NEJM Lucentis v Avastin AMD CATT clinical trial
  2. AUA Results from PIVOT study show no benefit from radical prostatectomy in low risk early stage patients
  3. ASCO 2011 Cabozantinib (XL184) may be an exciting new prostate cancer drug
  4. Merck’s capthepsin-K inhibitor odanacatib in osteoporosis
  5. Update from AACR on new prostate cancer drugs to watch

For those who like metrics:

  • Highest number of reads per month was in May (19,927)
  • Year to date there have been 79,179 visitors
  • Most visited day was September 22, 2011 (2136 reads)

What have been some of the other posts that I enjoyed writing about?

My top 5 (not in rank order) would be:

  1. Alpharadin will be new treatment option for prostate cancer
  2. Patient advocacy session at European Hematology Assocation EHA Congress shows impact of drug adherence on outcome
  3. How nanotechnology may revolutionize the detection of traumatic brain injury using a sensor that changes color
  4. Innovation in Nanotechnology will lead to improved drug delivery, diagnostics & imaging
  5. Insights of the decade

Finally, I have produced 4 videos that you can watch on the biotechstrategy channel on YouTube.


It’s been a busy but enjoyable year. Biotech Strategy Blog is still a work in progress.  If you have enjoyed a particular series of posts or would like me explore a topic or theme in the future, do email me or post a comment.

The FDA earlier this week issued a safety alert to doctors that repackaged bevacizumab (Avastin®) had caused serious eye infections in 12 patients in Florida. The New York Times today reports that five patients at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Los Angeles have gone blind as a result of an eye infection following injection of compounded Avastin.

I have written previously about the Lucentis v Avastin debate and the results in the Comparison of Age-related macular degeneration treatment trial (CATT) published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It is not good news that contamination has occurred while compounding bevacizumab (Avastin) from sterile100mg/4mL single use preservative-free vials into individual 1mL syringes.

Genentech/Roche may see this news as reinforcing their position that ranibizumab (Lucentis®) should only be used, since it comes in the correct dose for injection in the eye. However, this ignores the reality caused by the fact that Lucentis is approximately 40x the cost of compounded Avastin ($1950 versus $50).

This week’s news does not support the proposition that intravitreal injection of bevacizumab is not safe and effective for the treatment of AMD, nor any suggestion that pharmacies properly accredited and experienced in aseptic techniques are not qualified to do this. Pharmacists compound drugs everyday.

As the FDA notes in their alert:

“Health care professionals should be aware that repackaging sterile drugs without proper aseptic technique can compromise product sterility, potentially putting the patient at risk for microbial infections.  Health care professionals should ensure that drug products are obtained from appropriate, reliable sources and properly administered.”

However, there is no evidence to suggest that the pharmacies who undertook the Avastin compounding that led to the infection were not “appropriate, reliable sources and properly administered.”

The New York Times notes that the the contaminated Avastin came from the pharmacy at the main campus of the V.A. Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.  There is no mention of whether the VA pharmacists did the compounding themselves or sourced the drug elsewhere.

According to a news report in the Florida SunSentinel, the pharmacy identified as the source of the infection in Florida is InfuPharma. This is not a retail pharmacist in the high street, but a specialist compounding pharmacy that advertises sterile preparations for numerous products. Licensed pharmacists run this specialist company and looking at their website they do appear to be experienced in this area.

Endophthalmitis is a serious eye infection that may lead to loss of vision. The contamination should not have occurred.  These incidents should not, however, be blown out of proportion in the Lucentis v. Avastin debate.

Sadly, infections and contamination happen in hospitals and the healthcare industry all the time. Even the FDA approved manufacturing facilities of pharmaceutical companies have experienced problems in recent years.  Last summer, BMS experienced issues with sterile manufacturing standards at their Puerto Rico plant following FDA inspections.  Earlier this week, Baxter announced they had filed a lawsuit against Teva for indemnification over a hepatitis C outbreak following reuse of oversize propofol vials.

The news of serious eye infections with repackaged Avastin must, therefore, be put in context. There are countless patients around the world who have benefited from intravitreal injections of Avastin for treatment of their age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The issue raised by the infections in Florida and Los Angeles is whether there is adequate inspection and certification of compounding pharmacies, and whether there is a need for more State regulation and inspections in this area.

Disclosure:  I have written freelance articles for Pharmacy Today, the magazine of the American Pharmacists Association.

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Breaking news:

The New England Journal of Medicine have just published online the results of the Comparison of Age-related macular degeneration treatment trial (CATT) comparing the efficacy of FDA approved ranibizumab (Lucentis) to off-label bevacizumab (Avastin); a trial that has important commercial importance given the comparative costs of an intravitreal injection of around $1950 (Lucentis) vs. $50 (Avastin).

Key Study Results

Based on 1208 patients randomly assigned in the single-blind noninferiority trial, primary outcome was mean change in visual acuity between baseline and 1 year. This was equivalent between the two drugs.

Bevacizumab administered monthly was equivalent to ranibizumab administered monthly, with 8.0 and 8.5 letters gained, respectively.

Secondary outcome measures included the incidence of ocular and systemic side effects, the results show some similarities and differences:

Rates of death, myocardial infarction and stroke were similar for patients receiving either bevacizumab or ranibizumab (P>0.20).

The proportion of patients with serious adverse events (primarily hospitalization) was higher with bevacizumab than with ranibizumab (24.1% vs 19%)

The conclusion of the study is that:

At 1 year, bevacizumab and ranibizumab had equivalent effects on visual acuity when administered to the same schedule”

However, here is the potential ‘get out’ for Genentech:

Differences in rates of serious adverse events require further study.

The investigators note that the difference in serious adverse events may be due to:

“chance, imbalances in baseline health status that were not included in the medical history or multivariate models, or a true difference in risk.”

i.e. they don’t know.

What the results from the CATT study mean is that Avastin and Lucentis are similar, but different. That is not a surprising result given that they originate from the same anti-VEGF monoclonal antibody.  However, they are not identical.

Clearly, if I were a patient, the additional 5% risk of serious adverse events would have to be weighed against the cost benefits. For those who are uninsured or unable to afford Lucentis, receiving Avastin may be an informed decision worth taking.  As the investigators note:

One of the many factors that contribute to the selection of a drug for a patient is cost.  A single dose of ranibizumab costs 40 times as much as a single dose of bevacizumab.  This cost differential has important economic implications when extrapolated to the more than 250,000 patients who are treated for neovascular AMD annually in the United States.

I look forward to hearing the animated discussion of these results at the ARVO annual meeting in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe CATT Research Group (2011). Ranibizumab and Bevacizumab for Neovascular Age-Related Macular Degeneration New England Journal of Medicine DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1102673

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