Drug giants threaten NHS with legal action over cheaper drug that could save £84m a year

Two multinational drug companies are threatening legal action to prevent patients being offered a cheap version of an effective drug against blindness which could save the NHS millions of pounds.

Twelve NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the north-east of England say that saving money by buying a safe and effective – but 10 times cheaper – version of the licensed drug for wet macular degeneration is far preferable to cutting costs in other ways, for instance by rationing fertility treatment or cataract operations.

The licensed drug for the condition, which is the commonest cause of blindness in older age, is Lucentis (known generically as ranibizumab). But more than a decade ago, doctors discovered that an anti-cancer drug, Avastin (bevacizumab), gives results that are just as good – and when it is split into the tiny doses needed to inject into the back of the eye, it is a fraction of the price.

Genentech, the manufacturer of Avastin, refused to apply for a licence for it to be used in eyes. But in 2012, the IVAN trial, funded by the NHS, showed that the two drugs were equally safe and effective and that its widespread use could potentially save the NHS more than £84m a year. Avastin is widely used in the United States and other countries around the world to treat macular degeneration.

It is not much used in the UK, however, and now the two drug giants that market Lucentis, Novartis and Bayer, have warned the NHS commissioners that they will seek a judicial review if they go ahead with their plans to offer Avastin.

Article from the Guardian, 1 November 2017