NHS defends use of cheaper drug for eyesight loss

ROW The drug, Lucentis
ROW The drug, Lucentis

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HEALTH officials say their decision to fund cheaper treatment for a common cause of sight loss is lawful – despite being challenged by a drugmaker.

The NHS in Hampshire agreed opthalmologists could prescribe the drug Avastin to treat wet Age-related Macular Degeneration (wet AMD) as an extra option where appropriate.

This is despite another, more expensive drug called Lucentis being recommended for use by the NHS drugs watchdog.

Avastin costs about £60 per injection compared with £740 per for Lucentis.

It has a European licence but is not officially approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to treat wet AMD.

Now Lucentis’ manufacturer Novartis has launched judicial review proceedings over the decision made in September to fund Avastin instead.

A spokeswoman for the SHIP cluster of NHS trusts in Portsmouth, Southampton, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, said Avastin was internationally recognised as an effective treatment for AMD and that more than half of patients in the USA with the condition were treated with it.

She added: ‘We have taken legal advice and consider that the policy to allow clinicians the choice between Avastin and Lucentis for the NHS AMD patients is a lawful policy.

‘Under this policy the choice of drug is a matter for individual patients and their NHS clinicians. The trusts have reached the view that the published evidence suggests that Avastin is as clinically effective as Lucentis and is far more cost effective.

‘If clinicians choose to prescribe Avastin for wet AMD patients the cost savings will result in the PCTs being able to fund other eye-related treatments for NHS patients.’

However Novartis argues patient safety could be put at risk. In a statement the firm said: ‘It is unacceptable to put the safety of patients at risk through the widespread use of an unlicensed treatment when a licensed medicine is available.

‘It undermines the regulatory process that was introduced to safeguard patients.’

About 70 per cent of wet AMD patients will suffer severe sight loss within two years of diagnosis, according to the NHS.