So the results are in from that Lucentis-vs-Avastin [Roche/Genentech (OTC:RHHBY), Novartis(NVS)] comparison (known as CATT, Comparison of AMD Treatment Trials), and I'd say that they came out the way people were expecting: monthly injections of either antibody give the same end results, as measured by vision testing. There are some slight differences between the two when retinal thickness is measured, but thate hasn't shown up in the end result (visual impairment). There's another year of follow-up ongoing, and perhaps that will show something (or perhaps not). For now, the outcome appears to be the same.
Another interesting feature of this study is that it compared regular monthly treatment with either drug to an "as-needed" dosing schedule. In this case Lucentis performed equally well by either schedule, with monthly Avastin equivalent, but (interestingly) as-needed Avastin dosing was, in fact, inferior. These protocols need fewer injections (and less Lucentis), but more imaging of the retina, along with more judgment calls on the part of physicians, so the cost savings there will remain to be seen. Savings on injections into the eyes, though, would surely be welcome - it's too bad that Avastin didn't perform as well that way.
As the editorial in the NEJM summed it up:
Health care providers and payers worldwide will now have to justify the cost of using ranibizumab. Regulators in certain countries will be forced to reconsider their policies that make it illegal to use drugs off-label, particularly when so many of their citizens cannot afford ranibizumab. The CATT data support the continued global use of intravitreal bevacizumab as an effective, low-cost alternative to ranibizumab.
The only thing that could flip this around is if the second year of CATT produces some new data, or if the ongoing European trials turn up some safety data that this study wasn't powered to pick up.
More here at the In Vivo Blog. BioCentury also did a good write-up on this one for their subscribers - they interviewed a number of opthamology practitioners, and the voting looks solidly in favor of using the much less expensive Avastin. One South Carolina practice reported that, because of the state's sales tax on physician-administered drugs, that they pay $140 in tax for every injection of Lucentis, while getting reimbursed $120 by Medicare for doing it, which doesn't sound like much of a way to make a living. Still, as the newsletter points out, off-label Avastin use (which would be legal) involves repackaging what was a single-dose container, and that part is technically in violation of the law. But the agency doesn't want to get in the way of freedom of medical practice, and seems to be letting that trump the repackaging/compounding concerns.