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NHS wins eye condition drug case

Wednesday 26th September 2018
The High Court has rejected a bid by two major pharmaceutical companies to stop the NHS using a cheaper drug for a common eye condition.
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NHS pharmacists will be able to go on prescribing a drug for an eye condition at a lower cost to the health service, following a High Court battle that has raged since 2007. 

The case centred on the use of a drug called Avastin by 12 NHS bodies in the north-east of England. It is used to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common eye condition. 

However, pharmaceutical firms Novartis and Bayer, the providers of Lucentis and Eylea, took the bodies to court, arguing that Avastin was not licensed - unlike the two drugs they provided. 

The contention of the NHS was that Avastin was a much cheaper drug at £28 per injection, compared with £561 for Lucentis and £800 for Eylea. It wanted to offer patients the choice and while Avastin is still only licensed as an anti-cancer drug in the UK at present, it is recommended for treating eye conditions by the World Health Organisation. 

Moreover, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence did conclude in January this year that Avastin was as safe and effective as the two other drugs. The General Medical Council has also backed its use. 

Taking all the evidence into account, the High Court ruled against the appeal by Novartis and Bayer.

Commenting on the court victory, chief executive officer of NHS South Tyneside clinical commissioning group David Hambleton said: "We've always said we think that it's important that patients should have the choice of a very effective treatment for wet AMD, and it's actually a fraction of the cost of the other alternatives."

He concluded: "We believe that they will support very strongly having a cost-effective, safe treatment and saving the NHS generally a lot of money. It is a victory for common sense over commercial interests."

Novartis expressed disappointment, claiming it felt it was wrong for bodies like NHS South Tyneside and others to have offered patients an unlicensed drug to save money. 

The conclusion may, however, set a precedent in reducing the power of pharmaceutical companies to set costs, potentially enabling the NHS to prescribe more cheap drugs when they are as effective as the more expensive alternatives. 

Written by James Puckle

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