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FDA approves Regeneron drug for macular degeneration

macular degeneration
The interior surface of the eye, showing age-related macular degeneration. National Eye Institute

(CBS/AP) There's a new option for those suffering from "wet" age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in older people. The FDA approved Regeneron's new drug, Eylea, an injection designed to treat the condition, on Friday.

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Eylea is intended to treat the chronic eye disease that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. The condition occurs when abnormal blood vessels start to grow behind the retina. The fragile new vessels often leak blood and fluid that damage the macula, a part of the retina that enables clear vision. More than 200,000 cases of the disease are diagnosed in the U.S. every year.

Researchers have high expectations for Eylea because clinical trials showed it could be administered every other month, although the FDA recommends monthly injections for the first three months and then bimonthly. Lucentis, the current standard treatment for the condition, is approved to be used once per month.

Eylea will launch next week and each dose will cost $1,850, Regeneron said. Lucentis costs $2,000. The company said health insurers and programs like Medicare will save money because patients won't have to visit their doctor as often for injections and checkups. It said those visits cost $250 to $300 each.

Side effects are rare, but include bleeding of the conjunctiva, eye pain, cataracts, detachment of the retina, and greater pressure within the eye. In a few patients, strokes, nonfatal heart attacks, and vascular death, including deaths of unknown cause, occurred.

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