The Avastin Chronicles

Another entry in a series explaining the extent of my love for drug companies, unlike my discussion of Merck’s Zetia and Vytorin above, a case in which I am personally involved since I woke up one morning last December with macular edema secondary to retinal vein occlusion in my left eye. Which meant i was going blind.

Luckily, I was referred to Dr. Anne E. Fung, who attempted to get me into a clinical trial for a new wonder drug, and who then, when I was rejected by the sponsoring drug company because I was HIV+, treated me with Bevacizumab (Avastin), which Genentech had developed as a cancer drug.

Intraocular treatment with Bevacizumab means that they strap you down, jab a syringe into your eyeball, and squirt in a couple of milligrams of puréed mouse.

OK, I exaggerate slightly. You’re not strapped down. They deaden your eyeball and you just hold still. Very still. Trying not to imagine what would happen if you twitched. And it’s not really ground-up mouse but rather a mouse antibody that Genentech has brewed in their labs.

The good news is that one injection of it, along with some other treatment, has restored much of the vision I had lost. The bad news is that Genentech is actively fighting intraocular use of Avastin since they make fifteen times as much from another drug of theirs called Ranibizumab (Lucentis), derived from the same parent molecule by the same scientist.

Last fall they stopped sales of Avastin to compounding pharmacies, which effectively prevents retinologists from using it when they have exhausted their supply. Dr. Fung was foresighted enough to lay in a stash, and she is spacing out treatments for patients like me who respond well. This will prolong her ability to help patients whose insurance will not cover Lucentis, but her supply is running out.

Well, yes, let’s confine the luxury of vision to the folks who can afford it.

While you can still see, take a look at this place around the corner on 21st Street.


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