Bowel cancer drug 'prevents eye damage'

A drug licensed for treating bowel cancer can prevent eyesight loss in older people, a study finds.

Bevacizumab, which is licensed in the UK for treating bowel cancer, is safe and effective at preventing wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a BMJ study found.

UK researchers wanted to assess whether bevacizumab, which is commonly used ‘off-label' as a much cheaper alternative to approved drug ranibizumab, was effective at preventing wet AMD in older patients.

A total of 131 patients aged 50 years and over with wet AMD were randomised to either bevacizumab injections at six week intervals or standard care.

Visual acuity was measured at the start of the study and then monitored over 54 weeks.

Researchers found that, after one year, 32% of patients in the bevacizumab group gained 15 or more letters from baseline visual acuity compared with 3% in the standard care group.

The drug was also more effective at reducing the numbers of letters of visual acuity lost over the study.

Bevacizumab treatment was also associated with a low rate of serious adverse events.

The results show that bevacizumab injections given at six weekly intervals for wet AMD is superior to the standard care available at the start of the trial, said the authors.

They concluded that the trial provides level-one evidence for the use of bevacizumab injections for the treatment of wet AMD.

However, in an accompanying editorial Professor Usha Chakravarthy from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast warns that the study does not show whether bevacizumab is as effective as ranibizumab.

She warns that ‘the off label use of bevacizumab should not be encouraged until the large randomised trials comparing it with ranibizumab report their findings'.

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