Allowing NHS doctors to offer a “cheap, safe and effective” drug to treat a common eye condition could release up to £102 million a year for other patient services but its access is being blocked by the pharmaceutical company behind it, health experts claim today.
Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is mainly treated with Lucentis by the NHS, but clinical leaders want Avastin, which is currently licensed for cancer treatment, to be given to patients.
Last week bosses at NHS Scarborough and Ryedale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) backed moves by bosses at NHS Vale of York CCG to draw up a business case for specialists to use Avastin, which trials show has a similar impact as Lucentis.
But in a report today, the British Medical Journal claimed drug manufacturers are waging a campaign to “undermine and divert attention” from the trial results.
Lucentis is estimated to cost the NHS £742 per dose while Avastin is just £50 to £65 in comparison. Both drugs are owned by the same company, Roche, but Lucentis is marketed by Novartis in the UK.
The BMJ said that emails it obtained in Freedom of Information request show that clinicians with ties to Novartis urged some primary care trusts to pull out of one trial, while there had been alleged attempts by the drug company to “derail” a second publicly funded UK trial.
BMJ editor in chief Fiona Godlee said pharmaceutical companies should not be able to block access to alternative drugs.
Even though Avastin is not licensed to treat wet AMD, many doctors prescribe it to their patients. The BMJ said there is no record of any doctor being formally investigated for doing so.
Dr Godlee said: “Doctors and academics have carried out clinical trials despite threats and intimidation - and doctors leaders should follow suit and not allow themselves to be bullied either.
“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.”
Novartis said: “Novartis is committed to high standards of ethical business conduct. Novartis strongly believes that patients have the right to the highest standard of care and that this right should be defended to promote safety and quality as the key drivers of health policy.”