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Serious, Blinding Eye Infections Linked to Avastin Eye Treatment

Sep 1, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

An off-label use of the cancer drug Avastin has been linked to serious eye infections that, in some cases, have resulted in permanent blindness.  All of these eye infections occurred in people who received Avastin injections in the eye to treat wet age-related macular degeneration.

The problem with using Avastin in this way is that the drug is only sold in much higher doses than what is needed.  As a result, single vials of Avastin are divided into smaller vials, making it much more likely that the drug will become tainted with bacteria.  Despite this risk, doctors use Avastin in this manner because it is far less expensive than another drug, Lucentis, that is approved to treat macular degeneration.  Lucentis and Avastin are both made by Genentech, and work in a similar fashion, but Avastin costs only $50 per dose, with Lucentis coming in at $2,000.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), 12 people in Miami, Florida, were apparently infected with Streptococcus oralis after receiving Avastin eye injections.  According to a warning  to healthcare professionals issued yesterday, a pharmacy in Hollywood, Florida, had repacked the Avastin from sterile injectable 100 mg/4 mL, single-use, preservative-free vials into individual 1 mL single-use syringes.  The vials were then distributed to multiple eye clinics. 

Star News Online is reporting that four additional infections - this time Streptococcus viridan – occurred in people from Tennessee after they received Avastin eye injections, according to a statement from the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, part of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The bacteria-tainted Avastin shots they received were prepared in the pharmacy of the V.A. hospital in Nashville. 

According to Star News Online, victims of both the Florida and Tennessee Avastin infections have filed lawsuits over their injuries.  This includes the family of a 77-year-old-Tennessee man who suffered permanent blindness and brain damage after Streptococcus viridan went to his brain.  According to his family's lawsuit, the victim is currently in a vegetative state.

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