Vision-Saving Benefits of Lucentis Lessen Over Time for Some Patients

January 24, 2014

A new study published in the journal Ophthalmology indicates that the beneficial effects of Lucentis, a popular treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) developed by Genentech, may diminish over time for some patients. While Lucentis stabilized or improved vision in 90 percent of people with wet AMD participating in two-year clinical trials, study results show that those patients were at risk of significantly decreased vision in the long term. 

Known as SEVEN-UP, the Genentech-funded study group evaluated 65 patients who received ocular injections of Lucentis for an average of seven years. The researchers found that approximately one-third of those patients had “poor outcomes,” losing three or more lines of vision when reading an eye chart. 

Lucentis was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of wet AMD in 2006. It works by inhibiting the growth of leaky, vision-robbing blood vessels under the macula, the central area of the retina. The cancer drug Avastin, which is similar in safety and effectiveness, is also used as a less-expensive, off-label alternative to Lucentis. 

“There’s no doubt that Lucentis has been a game-changer for wet AMD. It has saved the vision of millions around the world,” says Stephen Rose, Ph.D., chief research officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness. “But given the sobering results of the SEVEN-UP study, and the need for ocular injections of Lucentis for the rest of the patient’s life, we need to do better.” 

In 2011, the FDA approved the wet AMD treatment Eylea, which requires less frequent ocular injections. Regeneron, the maker of Eylea, is developing a second wet AMD treatment incollaboration with Bayer to be used in combination with Eylea. Lab studies suggest the therapies together will have greater efficacy than Eylea alone. 

AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people 50 years of age and older in the United States and other developed countries. About 90 percent of those affected have dry AMD, which is characterized by the build-up of deposits called drusen under the retina. While dry AMD can cause significant vision loss, the subsequent onset of wet AMD, which occurs in 10 percent of cases, is more likely to lead to blindness. Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for dry AMD. 

Several new wet and dry AMD therapies are being developed by Genentech and other pharmaceutical companies. The Foundation Fighting Blindness is also funding several research projects — incluidng those for stem cell, gene and small-molecule therapies — which hold promise for saving and restoring vision for people with AMD.