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Off-label use of bevacizumab in the treatment of retinal disease: ethical implications
  1. Landon James Rohowetz
  1. Correspondence to Landon James Rohowetz, University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Medicine, Kansas City, MO 64108, USA; ljrvx8{at}


Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) therapy has revolutionised the treatment of a variety of ophthalmic conditions and has become the first-line therapy for a range of retinal diseases. Bevacizumab, a VEGF inhibitor first approved for the treatment of colorectal cancer, has been shown to be nearly or virtually as effective and safe as other anti-VEGF therapies in the treatment of certain retinal diseases but is not approved or registered by the Food and Drug Administration or European Medicines Agency. While other anti-VEGF options are approved and registered, they are generally more expensive and less accessible. Accordingly, despite its off-label status, bevacizumab is frequently used for a variety of disabling retinal diseases. Indeed, bevacizumab is included on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. However, its use in some parts of the world remains restricted due to its off-label status. How, then, should healthcare authorities approach this situation? What are the ethical and societal implications of adhering to a standard and generally effective evaluation and approval system while restricting access to a potentially cost-saving therapy? In countries where its use is not restricted, how should providers approach off-label treatment with bevacizumab? By examining the evidence behind bevacizumab’s efficacy and safety and evaluating the individual and societal implications of off-label use and restriction, this paper illustrates the ethical factors providers and policy makers must consider in the off-label use of bevacizumab and ultimately argues for increased access to bevacizumab in the treatment of retinal disease.

  • drug and drug industry
  • autonomy
  • clinical ethics
  • Informed Ccnsent
  • public health ethics

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  • Contributors LJR conceived, designed and wrote the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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