The eye drug Lucentis has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating the disease diabetic macular edema (DME). This drug was originally developed by Roche to treat cancer. Lucentis has also been approved to treat two eye disorders, macular degeneration and now, diabetic macular edema.
The leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults in the US is diabetes. Diabetic macular edema causes swelling and blurred vision. Without treatment, it can result in permanent vision loss. Of the 26,000 Americans with diabetes, more than 560,000 are estimated to have diabetic macular edema. All diabetics should have a comprehensive dilated annual eye examination to screen for this disease, as it may have no symptoms in the early stages.
Lucentis is an injection that is currently the only FDA-approved medication for diabetic macular edema. The typical treatment for DME in the US has been laser surgery; however, this surgery is limited in its ability to restore lost vision. The laser is able to slow down vision loss, as well as help stabilize vision.
Lucentis is also approved to treat wet macular degeneration. It helps control the production of weak blood vessels that leak in the retina.
Lucentis’ side-effects include increased pressure on the eyes, and possibly bleeding around the tissue that lines the eyelids.
As a cancer drug, Lucentis is injected in large quantities into the body. For treating the eye, the dosage is much smaller and is injected directly into the eye. Its sister drug, Avastin, is a very similar drug that is available in tiny doses. Avastin is made by the same drug company, and it is much cheaper per shot (approximately 3% of the cost of Lucentis, which runs more than $1600/month). However, using Avastin for diabetic macular edema has not been approved by the FDA, so Medicare cannot cover this “off-label” use now that Lucentis is approved.
Other eye diseases common to diabetics include diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma. The effects of these eye diseases and diabetes can be reduced and/or managed through a healthy diet, targeted supplementation and conscious lifestyle choices.