Drug Used for Preemie Eye Disease Tied to Problems
Babies given Avastin were far more likely to have neurological complications, study shows
By Amy Norton
FRIDAY, March 18, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- A drug used to treat an eye disease in premature infants may be linked to serious disabilities such as cerebral palsy and hearing loss, a new study suggests.
The drug in question is Avastin (bevacizumab), a cancer drug that fights tumors by cutting off their blood supply. In the past few years, doctors have also been using it to treat retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP. Avastin isn't approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically to treat ROP, but doctors still use the drug for what's known as an "off-label" indication.
The current findings do not prove that Avastin is to blame, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Julie Morin of the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center, in Montreal, Canada. They only show an association between the drug and serious complications in babies treated for ROP.
ROP is a potentially blinding disease that mainly affects tiny preemies born before the 31st week of pregnancy, according to the U.S. National Eye Institute (NEI). It's caused by abnormal blood vessel development in the retina, the part of the eye that receives light and sends messages to the brain.
Each year in the United States, 14,000 to 16,000 infants develop some degree of ROP, according to the NEI.
The standard treatment for more severe ROP is laser surgery, which burns away the periphery of the retina, where there are no blood vessels. That usually causes a regression in the abnormal blood vessel growth, the NEI says.
But a 2011 study found that injections of Avastin might offer a simpler, even more effective treatment.
Since then, a growing number of doctors have been using the drug to treat severe ROP, said Dr. Graham Quinn. He's a pediatric ophthalmologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"A lot of people were really sold on this, because it seems like an easy treatment for a very serious disease," explained Quinn, co-author of an editorial published with the new study in the March 17 issue of Pediatrics.