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Eylea Approved by FDA to Treat All Stages of Diabetes-Related Retinopathy

Updated: 8/14/21 2:00 amPublished: 5/31/19
By Jeemin KwonKelly Close

By Jeemin Kwon and Kelly Close

Eylea can help reduce the risk of vision loss, a common complication of diabetes

Eylea has been approved by the FDA to treat all stages of diabetes-related retinopathy (eye disease) – a huge win for people with diabetes! In clinical trials, 80% of those who received Eylea every eight weeks saw significant improvement in their retinopathy. Eylea also reduced the risk of a more serious form of the disease called proliferative diabetes-related retinopathy (PDR). Eylea is already available. This news expands on a narrower 2015 approval to use Eylea for a specific type of diabetes-related retinopathy. UCSF’s highly-respected Dr. Eugene De-Juan expressed great enthusiasm about the “disease-modifying” properties of multiple therapies in development and was very excited about this approval, in a recent conversation.

Diabetes-related retinopathy is caused by damage to blood vessels in the eye due to sustained high blood sugar levels. This is more likely to happen in some people with diabetes than others due to genetics as well as other factors that are beyond the control of people with diabetes. While managing diabetes is very important, it is also important to realize that in the future, complications will be easier to manage due to these therapies and that access to the therapies is very important – so people with diabetes should make sure they are getting their eyes checked annually and that they are knowledgeable! As more background - PDR occurs when damage to blood vessels triggers your body to compensate by making more blood vessels. These new vessels are fragile and more easily damaged, which can result in bleeding or scarring in the eye that worsens vision. For more background, see here.

How does Eylea work?

Eylea blocks VEGF, a protein that is necessary for new blood vessel growth. The medication is injected into the eyes either once every eight weeks or once every 16 weeks by an ophthalmologist.

In the PANORAMA trial, retinopathy improvement was measured with the Diabetic Retinopathy Severity Scale (DRSS). After one year, the 80% of participants who got Eylea every eight weeks improved by two steps on the scale – out of a total of five steps. Incredible! With a longer 16 weeks between treatments, two-thirds of those on Eylea improved by two steps. This type of improvement translates to being able to see 10 more letters on the eye chart below.

Start of treatment vs. after treatment

Are there financial assistance programs for Eylea?

Yes – for those who have private insurance but still have high out-of-pocket costs, there is a co-pay card. Those on Medicare or any other government health insurance plan are not eligible. Because Eylea is not a medication you would pick up at the pharmacy, you would need to apply through the phone for this option:

  • Apply by calling 1-855-EYLEA4U (1-855-395-3248) and press Option 4. Hours: Mon-Fri 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

For those with government-sponsored health insurance such as Medicare, the manufacturer recommends calling their help line (same phone number as above) about cost assistance.

Finally, there is a patient assistance program for people who have no health insurance and meet financial need requirements. People are required to call the number above to apply.

What do you think?

About the authors

Kelly L. Close is the founder and Chair of the Board of The diaTribe Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of people living with diabetes and prediabetes, and... Read the full bio »