The $2 Drug That Millions of Patients Aren’t Being Told About

What people living with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) need to know

Kat Kennedy
Elemental
Published in
9 min readApr 6, 2021

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Black-and-white ketch of an eye with long lashes; tiny blue pills on the iris and a drug molecule on the pupil are the only source of color.
Illustration by Christi Williams for Elemental

“I couldn’t open or close my eyes without pain. It was like salt or shards of glass… all I could do was go to bed,” said 71-year-old Beth, who was diagnosed with age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) in both eyes last year.

Beth is one of 11 million Americans — a number expected to double by 2050 — suffering from this leading cause of vision loss in the developed world. Once a month, every month, she undergoes the procedure recommended by physicians across the nation: a $3,000 Lucentis injection directly into each eyeball to prevent fluid buildup at the back of her eyes.

Ranibizumab (sold under the brand name Lucentis) is the leading treatment prescribed for Beth’s form of AMD along with several other eye diseases. It works by shutting down the growth of new blood vessels at the back of the eye, but it needs to be administered directly into the eyeball to do so. Beth doesn’t know that there’s an alternative treatment available — a pill used for Parkinson’s disease that costs just a few dollars a month and has little to no side effects. Her doctor, like most others with patients like Beth, hasn’t told her about it.

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Kat Kennedy
Elemental

Desert dwellin’ third culture kid | PhD student studying sleep and health