Charity urges NICE to rule on Avastin use
The Macular Disease Society has said the NHS must make clear whether patients can be treated with a cheaper cancer drug after legal action from a pharmaceutical company.
The Society said the Government must solve the question of which drug should be used in treatment by instructing NICE to hold an appraisal of unlicensed Avastin for use in a range of eye diseases.
Novartis, which makes Lucentis, is seeking a judicial review after four NHS Trusts in England decided to use Avastin to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Lucentis costs around £900 per dose and Avastin about £100.
Although not licensed for use in eyes, Avastin is widely used to treat AMD in other parts of the world including the US.
NICE has already said it could do an appraisal with the assistance of the safety regulator MHRA.
More than half a million people in the UK have AMD and it is becoming more common as the population ages. Lucentis is approved by NICE for treating AMD but Avastin is not.
Chief Executive of the Macular Disease Society Helen Jackman said: "Many retinal specialists are satisfied that Avastin is as safe and effective as the approved drug Lucentis, others are not.
"NICE is the organisation best placed to resolve these issues, although we accept they cannot do so alone as there remit does not include safety and so they need the expertise of the MHRA as well.
"There needs to be a national solution to these uncertainties. If Avastin is not as safe as Lucentis no-one should be using is. If it is as good perhaps everyone should be using it. If doctors and other experts cannot agree on which drug to use it is not reasonable to expect a patient to decide and we have doubts patients would have the issues properly explained to them.
"A court would decide whether the PCTs' decision was correct from a legal or procedural point of view. Many of the issues of safety will remain unanswered and the uncertainty will go on."