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New Drug for Rare Type of Macular Degeneration

The FDA has approved a new drug treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (search). The drug, called Macugen (search), doesn’t cure the condition, but it slows vision loss.

Wet age-related macular degeneration (search) (wet AMD) is rare. It accounts for about one in 10 cases of macular degeneration. But when it strikes, it can devastate sight. It’s estimated that wet AMD causes 90 percent of blindness related to macular degeneration.

Wet AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal, leaky blood vessels in the eye. The blood and fluid that escape from the blood vessels damage the eye. Central vision, which is required for activities like reading, driving, and recognizing faces, can be severely affected or even destroyed by the disease.

If untreated, people with wet age-related macular degeneration may become functionally blind. However, they rarely become totally blind, since wet AMD doesn’t affect peripheral vision.

“Macugen provides a needed addition to the treatment of patients with this disease,” says acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford, DVM, PhD, in a news release.

Macugen’s safety and effectiveness was tested in two trials for two years. In both studies, vision loss slowed significantly in wet AMD patients receiving Macugen.

The recommended dose is 0.3 milligrams administered once every six weeks by injection to the eye, say the drug’s makers, Eyetech Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer, a WebMD sponsor.

Serious side effects from the injection procedure included infections, retinal detachment, and traumatic cataract, says the FDA. Other frequently reported side effects included eye irritation, eye pain, bleeding under the eye’s outer membrane, and blurred vision.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

SOURCE: News release, FDA. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration.” Eyetech Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer, “Facts About Macugen.”