New drug may slow vision loss

November 16, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ANAHEIM, Calif. - An experimental drug can slow the loss of vision caused by a maddening eye disease that is the leading cause of blindness among the elderly, researchers have found.

But in a large trial, the drug did not meaningfully improve vision, they said. That contradicts previously reported results that had sent patients flocking to eye doctors for what they thought might be a miracle cure.

The drug, called Macugen, is intended to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, a disease that can rob people of the ability to read, drive, recognize faces or watch television. More than 200,000 cases of wet macular degeneration are diagnosed each year in the United States.

Macugen, developed by Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc. of New York, appeared to work for all types in a large clinical trial, said Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito.

In early, smaller trials, Macugen and another similar drug being developed by Genentech not only slowed loss of vision but significantly improved it. About 26 percent of people who took either Macugen or the Genentech drug, Lucentis, were able to read three or more extra lines on an eye chart.

But in the larger trial, only 6 percent of those getting Macugen had an improvement in vision of three or more lines, compared with 2 percent for those in a control group.

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