Irwin Retina Center: Landmark Macular Degeneration Study Shows Two Drugs Equally Effective

In April, the National Institutes of Health released its much anticipated one-year results of the Comparison of AMD Treatment Trials (CATT), which compared the effectiveness of two drugs.

When it comes to treating wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the less costly drug Avastin is as effective as its pricier counterpart Lucentis in stopping the progression of wet AMD and improving vision.

The Irwin Retina Center at Ingalls was the only Illinois test site and was one of the country's leading enrollers in the study. Patients were randomly assigned and treated with one of four regimens for a year. They received Lucentis monthly or as needed, or Avastin monthly or as needed.

The results showed that Avastin and Lucentis were equally effective and safe to use. Further, the study showed that "as-needed" dosing does nearly as well as monthly injections.

"Lucentis was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2006 for the treatment of advanced, or wet, macular degeneration," explains David Orth, M.D., principal investigator for CATT and medical director of the Irwin Retina Center at Ingalls.

Avastin is a drug closely related to Lucentis and has been widely used off-label in Europe, Canada and the United States to treat wet macular degeneration for years.

Both therapies are manufactured by Genentech, Inc., and work by interfering with proteins needed for the growth of new blood vessels. However, the cost of the two drugs varies widely. Lucentis costs roughly $2,000 per dose, while Avastin runs about $50. Most patients with macular degeneration are covered by Medicare, so the federal government has been interested in findings that might reduce treatment costs.

"Patients being treated for wet macular degeneration don't see very well," Dr. Orth explained. "So they rely on someone to bring them in for treatment. If we can treat them less often with an equally effective therapy, that's a real benefit – both in terms of cost and convenience.

The one-year results are quite promising."

Since 84-year-old Glee Hibbeler was enrolled in the study two-and-a-half years ago, the vision in her right eye has improved. So much so that the energetic Palos Hills woman still reads, drives and regularly socializes with friends and family, including a twice-weekly bridge game.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "I'm so lucky this happened to me when we have this treatment available."

Eighty-year-old Frank Swan of Hinsdale agrees. Frank, who no longer receives regular injections, says the treatment has kept the condition in his left eye from worsening. Like Glee, he remains active, drives and enjoys regular games of golf.

"I do anything I want to do," he said.

For more information regarding the treatment options for Age-Related Macular Degeneration, contact Linda Arredondo, R.N., at the Irwin Retina Center at Ingalls Memorial Hospital 708.915.6943.

Watch an online interview of Dr. Orth at

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