Avastin is a cancer drug that must be split into smaller doses for eye treatments. There is a risk that batches of Avastin can be contaminated with bacteria. Unfortunately, dozens of people have suffered devastating eye infections that caused blindness.
Avastin Silicone Floaters and “Air Bubbles”
Avastin is not approved for eye diseases, so doctors must re-package Avastin into pre-filled syringes for eye injections. These syringes are not always safe for use in the eyes because they may be lubricated with silicone oil.
The problem is that silicone tends to migrate away from the syringe and mix into the liquid Avastin. Sometimes, silicone is injected into the patient’s eyes — leaving silicone “floaters” that look like air bubbles in the eye of the patient. These “floaters” can cause serious vision problems, including blindness.
FDA Recalls Avastin After Causing Eye Infections
- March 20, 2013 — The FDA and Clinical Specialties have recalled several lots of Avastin after receiving reports of 5 people who suffered eye infections after receiving contaminated injections for macular degeneration. Read the official FDA recall notice for Avastin.
- August 30, 2011 — Contaminated injections of Avastin have been linked to 16 eye infections in Tennessee and Florida. Click here to read more from the New York Times.
- September 1, 2011 — Five people have suffered eye infections after being treated with Avastin at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Los Angeles. Click here to read more from the New York Times.
Avastin Eye Infection Information
Avastin (bevacizumab) is a cancer medication developed by Genentech. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in 2004 for the treatment of colorectal cancer and lung cancer. However, it is not approved to treat eye diseases.
Avastin is frequently used “off-label” for the treatment of macular degeneration, an age-related eye disease that causes gradual loss of sharp, central vision. It is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 60 years old.
Each dose of Avastin for macular degeneration costs about $50, which is significantly cheaper than a $2,000 dose of Lucentis, a somewhat similar drug that is approved to treat eye diseases. Although using Avastin instead of Lucentis can save a lot of money, it comes with a serious risk of eye infections.
A dose of Avastin for cancer is too large for use in eye treatments, so the dose must be split into multiple smaller doses and loaded into a syringe. The extra handling can potentially contaminate the medicine with bacteria, which can cause severe eye infections when it is injected in a patient.
Avastin Eye Infection Symptoms
Patients who are injected with Avastin in their eyes should be vigilant for symptoms of an intra-ocular eye infection, including:
- Blurred vision
- Increased eye “floaters” or seeing spots
- Sensitivity to light
- Eyelid swelling
FDA Safety Warnings for Avastin and Eye Infections, Blindness
Although the FDA has issued multiple safety warnings about the risk of eye infections and blindness from using Avastin, many people continue to be injured. The following warnings have been published:
- March 20, 2013 — FDA Announces Avastin Recall
- August 30, 2011 — FDA Warning for Avastin Eye Infections
Furthermore, the FDA has warned:
“Health care professionals should be aware that repackaging sterile drugs without proper aseptic technique can compromise product sterility, potentially putting the patient at risk for microbial infections. Health care professionals should ensure that drug products are obtained from appropriate, reliable sources and properly administered.”
Avastin and Compounding Pharmacies
Avastin eye injections are made by compounding pharmacies, which prepare customized drugs for specific patients (as opposed to pharmaceutical companies, which mass-produce drugs). Unfortunately, the FDA has limited oversight over these pharmacies, because they are also regulated by state pharmacy boards.
The safety of medicines created at compounding pharmacies has come under scrutiny following an outbreak of fungal meningitis. In 2012, contaminated medicines produced by New England Compounding Pharmacy were associated with more than 722 cases of spinal meningitis infections, and at least 50 deaths.
Avastin Eye Injection Side Effects
Potential complications of administering Avastin for eye injections include the following ocular side effects:
- Silicone floaters or “air bubbles”
- Eye infection (endophthalmitis)
- Misty vision
- Retinal tears
- Retinal detachment
- Cataract formation (clouding of the eye)
- Glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye)
- Hypotony (reduced pressure in the eye)
- Corneal damage