Drug company has been accused of ‘blocking’ a cheap eye treatment

A drugs firm has been accused of trying to block access to what some doctors believe is a cheap, safe and effective drug to treat a common eye condition. The British Medical Journal claims it has revealed a campaign to derail research into the cancer drug Avastin.
The claim has been denied by Novartis, the firm which markets the officially licensed drug, Lucentis, in the UK. Many doctors use Avastin as a cheaper but unlicensed alternative to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD affects around 26,000 people each year in the UK and if left untreated can cause blindness.
There is a licensed drug – Lucentis – which costs the NHS around £740 per dose. Trials have shown that another drug used to treat cancer – Avastin – is also an effective treatment, and is much cheaper, at between £50 and £65 per dose. Some doctors have been prescribing it, but it isn’t licensed for this purpose.
There is the added confusion of uncertainty over whether doctors could be personally liable if they prescribe an unlicensed drug. Both drugs are owned by the same company, Roche, but Lucentis is marketed by Novartis in the UK. The BMJ now claims it has evidence that clinicians with ties to Novartis urged some primary care trusts to pull out of one trial, and alleges the company tried to derail a second UK trial.
BMJ editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee said pharmaceutical companies should not be able to block access to alternative drugs. "Doctors’ leaders also need to sort out the web of misinformation about drug prescribing that has been generated behind closed doors. and is costing the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds a year by scaring doctors from using cheap and effective medicines."