North East health bosses to use cheaper drug to treat causes of blindness

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Health bosses are to push ahead with implementing a landmark legal victory - despite a bid by drug firm giants to overturn the decision.

Earlier this year, health chiefs struck a blow for patients and taxpayers when they won the right to treat one of the UK’s most common causes of blindness with the drug Avastin.

Dr David Hambleton

Dr David Hambleton

The drug is up to 30 time cheaper than the two existing treatments - Lucentis, sold by Novartis, or Eylea, sold by Bayer.

The two firms had tried to stop the 12 Clinical Commissioning Groups for the North East and Cumbria from offering Avastin – which NHS bosses describe as an ‘undeniably effective and less expensive’ than their own offerings.

Now, after being denied the opportunity to challenge the ruling by the High Court, the companies are turning to the Court of Appeal.

Dr David Hambleton, chief officer at South Tyneside CCG, told a meeting of the CCG’s governing body: “The two companies were considering an appeal. That was turned down.

“The next stage is the ability to appeal to the Court of Appeal and we’re told both companies are going to appeal. We have the right to submit a response to that and we will be doing so in the next 14 days.”

He added: “The companies continue to challenge the initial ruling by the judge and we’re moving towards the implementation of the policy locally.”

Although usually used to treat cancer, Avastin has also been proven to help tackle wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the UK’s most common causes of blindness.

The High Court ruling by Mrs Justice Whipple could help the NHS save more than £100m.

At the time, Dr Hambleton called it a ‘victory for common sense’.

The decision was also welcomed by Sunderland Eye Infirmary, which currently treats about 3,000 active patients with wet AMD and sees more than 450 new patients every single year.

It runs 35 wet AMD clinics every week and runs 23 injection lists every week.

A statement on Novaris’s website confirmed its intention to contest the decision at the Court of Appeal, questioning its safety and claiming it set a ‘dangerous precedent’.

A statement from Bayer said: “Bayer believes the ruling is a setback for public health.

“Physicians may potentially be required to encourage patients to choose a treatment which is unlicensed for use in the eye, over  licensed treatments for wet AMD that have been approved as a cost-effective use of NHS resources by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

“This has the potential to set a worrying precedent that denies patients the protection afforded by the regulatory process.

“The needs of patients remain Bayer’s highest priority and we are committed to ensuring patients continue to have access to licensed medicines, adhering to regulatory frameworks that are designed to protect patient safety.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service