• You Tube
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
 

News about Treatment for wet AMD

Homepage » News » News about Treatment for wet AMD

News about Treatment for wet AMD

Posted on Thursday 2nd November 2017

Doctors in North Cumbria and the North East face legal action from two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies for offering patients with a serious eye condition the choice of a safe, effective but much cheaper drug reports The BMJ.

Prescribing the cheaper drug could save the region’s NHS up to £13.5m a year within the next five years. But drug companies Bayer and Novartis are threatening legal action, claiming it would breach a patient’s legal right to an approved drug.

Some estimates suggest that a switch to bevacizumab for relevant eye conditions could save the NHS around £500 million per year.

Lucentis (ranibizumab) and aflibercept (Eylea) are licensed to treat wet age related macular degeneration (AMD) - a leading cause of blindness among older patients. Avastin (bevacizumab), is not licensed for wet AMD, but several publicly funded trials have shown that it is as safe and effective as aflibercept and ranibizumab.

Patients in the region will be told they could have ranibizumab and aflibercept if they would rather. They will also be told about how much cheaper bevacizumab is and the cost savings to the NHS.

However, both Bayer and Novartis spokespeople say that using unlicensed medicines instead of a licensed NICE approved option undermines the regulatory framework and NHS constitution. “Bayer feels it has to act to challenge the decision taken by these CCGs,” a Bayer spokesperson said.

Allowing doctors to offer bevacizumab as the preferred treatment could save hundreds of millions of pounds every year that the NHS could re-invest in other frontline services. But prescribing an off-label drug goes against GMC prescribing guidance.

It is this guidance that doctors say has deterred them from prescribing bevacizumab despite the evidence of its efficacy and safety, and the financial strain on the NHS. Andrew Lotery, Professor of ophthalmology at Southampton University told The BMJ: “It’s purely the regulatory framework that is stopping bevacizumab’s widespread use in the NHS.”

Back in 2015, The BMJ questioned the interpretation of European law that led to  the GMC’s stance. The advice appeared at odds with clinical practice in other European countries.

In 2014, Roche and Novartis were fined €180m by the European Court of Justice for allegedly colluding to prevent the use of bevacizumab by exaggerating the risks of using it to treat wet AMD and portraying ranibizumab as safer. The companies have challenged this at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

But a recent opinion by a senior adviser to the ECJ suggests that off label drugs can be considered in place of licensed drugs for various reasons and this includes their price.

Faced with this news, the GMC said it is “sympathetic to the frustrations of doctors and organisations seeking to use resources effectively”.

Assistant Director of Standards and Ethics Mary Agnew said: “We hope that some sort of licensing solution for drugs such as Avastin may be forthcoming, or alternatively that the situation is clarified in the courts to give doctors more assurance about when they can prescribe this drug safely and within the law.”

Professor Lotery says his eye unit is experiencing “extreme pressure” due to a lack of capacity, as are other hospital eye services across the country. “Savings made by using bevacizumab should be reinvested into the hospital eye service to build capacity to deliver sight saving treatment for age-related macular degeneration,” he argues.

In an accompanying commentary, Dr David Hambleton, Chief Officer at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), says offering patients the choice of bevacizumab could save the region’s NHS up to £13.5m a year within the next five years, helping it to fund important medical treatment in other areas.

He argues that pharmaceutical companies “should not dictate which drugs are available to NHS patients. The choice between three clinically effective drugs should be one for NHS clinicians and patients to make together.”

He is confident that EU drug marketing laws do not allow drug companies to restrict the ability of the NHS to offer patients a choice, and that the CCGs are acting lawfully.

“Clinical safety and effectiveness are paramount but, as the legal guardians of finite NHS resources, we commissioners also have a duty to act efficiently, effectively and economically,” he writes. “Difficult choices are having to be made about the NHS to ensure safety and sustainability – this is one choice that is morally and ethically clear.”

About ‘wet AMD’

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a painless eye condition that causes you to lose central vision, usually in both eyes. In AMD, this vision becomes increasingly blurred, which means:

o   Reading becomes difficult

o   Colours appear less vibrant

o   People’s faces are difficult to recognise

Macular degeneration develops when the part of the eye responsible for central vision (the macula) is unable to function as effectively as it used to. There are two main types – dry AMD and wet AMD.Wet AMD is more serious and is a common cause of blindness

Avastin is a licensed medication which large scale, international clinical trials have demonstrated is safe and clinically effective to treat wAMD patients.

Avastin is a tenth of the cost of both of the alternatives, Eylea and Lucentis, both of which can be marketed for wAMD patients because they have a “licence” for this use. 


Patient choice policy for the North East and North Cumbria

NHS commissioners in the North East and North Cumbria have agreed a new policy to allow patients a choice of drugs for wet AMD, so that patients can have safe, effective treatment while reducing costs for the NHS.

Every year, thousands of patients in our region are diagnosed with ‘wet AMD’ and receive excellent, sight-saving treatment. However, we think that drug costs in this area are higher than they need to be and Avastin (bevucizumab) offers an alternative which is just as safe, but far less expensive.

There is now a huge body of independent, peer-reviewed evidence showing that Avastin is safe and clinically effective when used for the treatment of wet AMD. Avastin is routinely used to treat wet AMD patients all around the world, including the USA, Australia and some parts of Europe. It is also commonly used in private practice within the UK for treating wet AMD.

That is why the 12 CCGs in the North East and North Cumbria have agreed a new policy for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration.

Dr David Hambleton, CCG Chief Officer, former consultant geriatrician and lead on behalf of the North East and North Cumbria CCG Forum, said:

“There is a mountain of evidence internationally showing that Avastin is safe and clinically effective for wet AMD. We want patients to have the chance to discuss their options with their doctor and make their own choice. If a patient chooses to be treated with Eylea (aflibercept) or Lucentis (ranucizumab) instead, the NHS will respect that choice.

“Clinical safety and effectiveness are paramount, and we also have a duty to use NHS resources efficiently. Sadly, Novartis, who hold the European rights for Lucentis, and Bayer, who manufacture Eylea, are now attempting to take legal proceedings to force the NHS in the region to use their more expensive drugs.

“We have taken specialist legal advice, and we are  confident that we are acting lawfully - in the same way that providers of Avastin to private wAMD patients are acting lawfully. Our legal position is strongly supported by a preliminary decision of the European Court handed down in September. That is why we have responded robustly to Bayer and Novartis who have threatened a judicial review in an attempt to deny NHS patients this choice.

“The companies make frequent use of the misleading term ‘unlicensed’ to suggest that Avastin is unsafe when this is clearly not the case. Licences are issued to make sure drugs are marketed responsibly, and it is common practice for doctors to prescribe drugs ‘off-label’ – i.e. not for their licensed use. This is the case with dozens of common paediatric drugs, for example.

“The new choice policy could save the region’s NHS up to £13.5 million a year within the next five years. That’s enough to pay for an extra 270 nurses or 266 heart transplants – every year. In a financially stretched NHS, that could be life-changing for thousands of our patients.

“It is right to offer our patients this choice, because the beneficiaries will be their friends, neighbours and family members across our region. We have no interest in legal disputes, but we cannot allow the NHS to be held to ransom.

“This was a careful decision and we will share information openly with patients so they can make their own informed choice.

“We do understand that there may be some caution among clinicians, but large-scale medical trial evidence internationally supports Avastin as a safe, effective clinical option for wet AMD.”

ENDS

Notes for editors

Avastin is a licensed medication which large scale, international clinical trials have demonstrated is safe and clinically effective to treat wAMD patients.

Avastin is around a tenth of the cost of both of the alternatives, Eylea and Lucentis, both of which can be marketed for wAMD patients because they have a “licence” (i.e. a marketing authorisation) for this use.

Avastin does not have a licence for treating wAMD patients because, despite the mountain of evidence that it is clinically effective for wAMD use, Roche, which owns the patent for Avastin, has not applied for a licence for this use.

Roche could apply to license Avastin for this use if it wished.  The decision not to do so appears to be a straightforward commercial decision made by Roche to maximise their revenue from Lucentis.

Licences are issued to make sure drugs are marketed responsibly – the terms of a licence do not apply to the way doctors use a drug. It is common practice for clinicians to use drugs ‘off-label’ – i.e. not for the indication described in their marketing. This is the case with dozens of common paediatric drugs, for example.

The European Court has recently supported the Italian courts which fined Roche and Novartis (which markets Lucentis in Europe) for market abuse by misleading doctors in suggesting that Avastin was not clinically effective for wet AMD patients as part of an attempt to persuade Italian doctors to use Lucentis instead. 

The North East and North Cumbria is not the first part of the country to take this step.  Other CCGs are working on the issue and have a variety of approaches which encourage using Avastin for wAMD patients.

Posted on Thursday 2nd November 2017

 

 
Bookmark and Share

© Copyright NHS Cumbria CCG 2018. All rights reserved.