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Clinical Negligence Solicitors

Blindness drug Pharmaceutical companies threaten legal rebuke over NHS plans to use cheaper drug (2 November 2017)

Date: 02/11/2017
Duncan Lewis, Clinical Negligence Solicitors, Blindness drug Pharmaceutical companies threaten legal rebuke over NHS plans to use cheaper drug

The drug, Lucentis, is licensed to be used for macular degeneration, treating blindness brought on by aging. Over 10 years ago an anti-cancer drug, Avastin, was discovered to have the same effect as Lucentis for treating the condition, with a significantly reduced cost per dosage. The difference is, the manufacturer of Avastin has refused to license the drug to treat macular degeneration.

A dozen NHS clinical commissioning groups have suggested that using a drug which has equal benefits against blindness should be used against one which is more expensive, since cuts will have to be made elsewhere otherwise. It is predicted that savings brought about by using Avastin over Lucentis will free up spending for other essential services within the NHS.

The British Medical Journal predicts that by offering Avastin, it will mean more money can be put towards hiring more nurses and delivering life-saving treatments, such as transplants.

It is understood, from one chief officer of the 12 clinical commissioning groups petitioning for this, David Hambleton, that doctors will offer Avastin first, keeping it open to patients to use Lucentis should they wish to. He claims that by offering a cheaper drug which treats blindness with the same effectiveness as Lucentis, it will enable the public to be more involved in the decisions the NHS are making to cut costs.

The General Medical Council guidelines state that doctors should only recommend drugs which are licensed to be used to treat that particular illness, however, it is the doctor’s discretion if they choose to offer a medicine licensed for another condition which is proven to work in the same way as the medicine licensed for that condition. It is best practice to only offer a medicine not licensed for that condition, if there are no licensed alternatives available.

The multi-national pharmaceutical companies potentially pursuing a claim against the NHS clinical commissioning groups wishing to offer Avastin are Novartis and Bayer, who market Lucentis. A spokesperson for Bayer argues that disregarding a licensed and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence “Nice-approved” medicine in favour of one which is not, could damage the integrity of the regulatory framework which ultimately supports the NHS.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence does recognise Avastin as a treatment for macular degeneration, however it does point out that it is not licensed to treat the condition.

Should the NHS clinical commissioning groups go ahead and introduce a policy to offer Avastin to patients suffering with macular degeneration, Novartis and Bayer say they will be forced to bring legal action against them in the interest of regulation.

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