Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor for proliferative diabetic retinopathy

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2023 Mar 20;3(3):CD008721. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008721.pub3.


Background: Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) is an advanced complication of diabetic retinopathy that can cause blindness. It consists of the presence of new vessels in the retina and vitreous haemorrhage. Although panretinal photocoagulation (PRP) is the treatment of choice for PDR, it has secondary effects that can affect vision. Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF), which produces an inhibition of vascular proliferation, could improve the vision of people with PDR.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness and safety of anti-VEGFs for PDR and summarise any relevant economic evaluations of their use.

Search methods: We searched CENTRAL (which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Trials Register; 2022, Issue 6); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid Embase; the ISRCTN registry;, and the WHO ICTRP. We did not use any date or language restrictions. We last searched the electronic databases on 1 June 2022.

Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing anti-VEGFs to another active treatment, sham treatment, or no treatment for people with PDR. We also included studies that assessed the combination of anti-VEGFs with other treatments. We excluded studies that used anti-VEGFs in people undergoing vitrectomy.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected studies for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed the risk of bias (RoB) for all included trials. We calculated the risk ratio (RR) or the mean difference (MD), and 95% confidence intervals (CI). We used GRADE to assess the certainty of evidence.

Main results: We included 15 new studies in this update, bringing the total to 23 RCTs with 1755 participants (2334 eyes). Forty-five per cent of participants were women and 55% were men, with a mean age of 56 years (range 48 to 77 years). The mean glycosylated haemoglobin (Hb1Ac) was 8.45% for the PRP group and 8.25% for people receiving anti-VEGFs alone or in combination. Twelve studies included people with PDR, and participants in 11 studies had high-risk PDR (HRPDR). Twelve studies were of bevacizumab, seven of ranibizumab, one of conbercept, two of pegaptanib, and one of aflibercept. The mean number of participants per RCT was 76 (ranging from 15 to 305). Most studies had an unclear or high RoB, mainly in the blinding of interventions and outcome assessors. A few studies had selective reporting and attrition bias. No study reported loss or gain of 3 or more lines of visual acuity (VA) at 12 months. Anti-VEGFs ± PRP probably increase VA compared with PRP alone (mean difference (MD) -0.08 logMAR, 95% CI -0.12 to -0.04; I2 = 28%; 10 RCTS, 1172 eyes; moderate-certainty evidence). Anti-VEGFs ± PRP may increase regression of new vessels (MD -4.14 mm2, 95% CI -6.84 to -1.43; I2 = 75%; 4 RCTS, 189 eyes; low-certainty evidence) and probably increase a complete regression of new vessels (RR 1.63, 95% CI 1.19 to 2.24; I2 = 46%; 5 RCTS, 405 eyes; moderate-certainty evidence). Anti-VEGFs ± PRP probably reduce vitreous haemorrhage (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.57 to 0.90; I2 = 0%; 6 RCTS, 1008 eyes; moderate-certainty evidence). Anti-VEGFs ± PRP may reduce the need for vitrectomy compared with eyes that received PRP alone (RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.93; I2 = 43%; 8 RCTs, 1248 eyes; low-certainty evidence). Anti-VEGFs ± PRP may result in little to no difference in the quality of life compared with PRP alone (MD 0.62, 95% CI -3.99 to 5.23; I2 = 0%; 2 RCTs, 382 participants; low-certainty evidence). We do not know if anti-VEGFs ± PRP compared with PRP alone had an impact on adverse events (very low-certainty evidence). We did not find differences in visual acuity in subgroup analyses comparing the type of anti-VEGFs, the severity of the disease (PDR versus HRPDR), time to follow-up (< 12 months versus 12 or more months), and treatment with anti-VEGFs + PRP versus anti-VEGFs alone. The main reasons for downgrading the certainty of evidence included a high RoB, imprecision, and inconsistency of effect estimates.

Authors' conclusions: Anti-VEGFs ± PRP compared with PRP alone probably increase visual acuity, but the degree of improvement is not clinically meaningful. Regarding secondary outcomes, anti-VEGFs ± PRP produce a regression of new vessels, reduce vitreous haemorrhage, and may reduce the need for vitrectomy compared with eyes that received PRP alone. We do not know if anti-VEGFs ± PRP have an impact on the incidence of adverse events and they may have little or no effect on patients' quality of life. Carefully designed and conducted clinical trials are required, assessing the optimal schedule of anti-VEGFs alone compared with PRP, and with a longer follow-up.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diabetes Mellitus* / drug therapy
  • Diabetic Retinopathy* / complications
  • Diabetic Retinopathy* / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ranibizumab / therapeutic use
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Vitreous Hemorrhage / drug therapy
  • Vitreous Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Vitreous Hemorrhage / surgery


  • Ranibizumab
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A