Age-related macular degeneration

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Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 4:05 pm | Updated: 4:42 pm, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

It's the leading cause of legal blindness in older Americans.

Every year, 250,000 people in the U.S. are treated for age-related macular degeneration. Now, there's more and more evidence that a cancer drug works just as well-- and is less expensive for patients.

Harriet Corstvet has a passion for reading about politics. "People don't realize that their opinion is being swayed!"

But age-related macular degeneration has made it difficult to enjoy. "And it's just absolutely maddening."

Opthalmologist Suresh Chandra is using an injectable colon cancer drug on Harriet.

To shrink vision-impairing blood vessels in her eye. It's not FDA approved for that, but there is growing evidence Avastin does it just as well as Lucentis, which is approved for AMD. Recently released results of a two-year clinical trial show. "Avastin had the same visual results at the end as Lucentis."

But Avastin is 50 dollars a dose. Lucentis is two-thousand dollars a dose.

A federal report shows in '08 and '09, Medicare paid physicians 1.1 billion dollars for 700,000 Lucentis treatments and just 40 million for many more Avastin treatments. The doctor says Avastin saves patients with co-pays a lot of money and could save people's vision in countries where Lucentis is just too expensive. Harriet says without it. "I would have for certain, would have been completely blind."

Avastin and Lucentis are made by the same drug maker.

The doctor says the off-label use of Avastin has become the standard of care for AMD. But, in 2011, there was concern about using the drug among some doctors.

The New York Times reports tainted doses of Avastin left 21 people blind.

Doctor Chandra believes the incidents were isolated.

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