Dr. Richard Hoffmann, Ask the Pharmacist, 02/14/12

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Drug treats age-related macular degeneration

By Richard Hoffmann

Q: I heard that a new drug was approved for age-related macular degeneration. What can you tell me about it?

A: The FDA recently approved a new drug therapy to help slow vision loss in people with the eye disease known as neovascular (wet) age-related macular degeneration or AMD.

AMD occurs when the central part of the eye’s retina, known as the macula, is damaged. This can lead to severe, irreversible loss of vision and is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people older than 50.

There are two types of AMD, wet and dry.

+ Dry AMD is the most common form, representing about 90 percent of all cases of AMD. However, dry AMD accounts for only 10 percent of the severe vision loss associated with this disease.
There is no generally accepted treatment for dry AMD, although vitamins, antioxidants, and zinc supplements may slow its progression. Over time, dry AMD cases often develop into wet AMD.

+ Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels start to grow under the center of your retina. These new blood vessels may be very fragile and often leak blood and fluid, which can damage your macula or create a scar on your retina, causing vision problems. The vision loss may be permanent, because abnormal blood vessels and scar tissue actually replace normal retina tissue.

An early symptom of wet AMD is vision change, when straight lines appear wavy. Wet AMD can lead to a rapid loss of central vision that impairs activities such as recognizing faces, reading, driving a car, crossing streets or performing basic tasks.

An estimated 2 million people in the U.S. currently have wet AMD, with an increase of 200,000 new cases each year. This number is expected to increase as the baby boomer generation ages.

The new drug that was approved for the treatment of wet AMD is named Eylea (aflibercept).

It belongs to a new class of ophthalmic drugs that act in a complex way to block abnormal blood vessel growth and leakage of blood and fluids within the eye.

Other, similar drugs include Macugen and Lucentis.

Studies have shown that patients treated with Eylea had a significant improvement in visual acuity when treated during a 52-week period. Eylea is given by intravitreal injection once a month for the first three months and then once every two months after that.

Richard P. Hoffmann, Pharm.D., has been a pharmacist for more than 40 years. Send questions to him at 2960 E. Coventry Court, Hernando, FL 34442.