A CUT-PRICE cancer drug is just as effective at preventing sight loss than the current treatment approved for use on the NHS, research has shown.
A ground-breaking study has revealed that the bowel cancer drug Avastin can stop patients with one of Britain’s most common causes of sight loss from going blind.
It is just as effective as the licensed eye treatment Lucentis, which is 15 times more expensive.
It means tens of thousands of patients could soon benefit from the cheap drug which experts say could save the NHS at least £84.5million each year.
However, this has prompted Novartis, the makers of Lucentis, to launch legal action to stop the health service using the cheaper alternative.
Many NHS Trusts have instructed consultants to prescribe Avastin at low doses even though it is not licensed for use in eye conditions.
Lucentis costs around £900 per injection, compared with around £60 a jab for Avastin, and both are being used to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD).
However, Novartis claims use of an unlicensed medicine undermines patient safety and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists has raised concerns about the possible dangers of Avastin, which is being used “off- label” with the onus on the doctor to vouch for its safety.
However, a British study presented at an international research meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and also appearing online shortly in the leading journal Ophthalmology, has shown that Avastin has a similar effect to Lucentis in treating wet AMD.
Wet AMD is a common cause of loss of vision in older people and around 250,000 people suffer from the debilitating condition in Britain.
If not treated, it can rob sufferers of their sight in as little as three months.
For four years, a team of scientists and eye specialists from 23 hospitals and universities across the UK have worked to investigate whether the two drugs are equally effective.
They looked at 610 people with wet AMD who entered a trial, known as Ivan, which is one of the largest ever carried out in the field of eye disease in the UK.
Professor Usha Chakravarthy of Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science, who led the research study team said: “The Ivan results at the end of the first year show that Lucentis and Avastin have similar effectiveness.
“Regardless of the drug received, or treating monthly or as needed, sight in the affected eye improved by between one and two lines on a standard eye test.”
The results from the British study have also been compared to the CATT study in America which also compared the two drugs and found that both had equal benefit.