Drugmakers criticise French move to back cheap off-label eye treatment

LONDON, July 9 Wed Jul 9, 2014 9:30am EDT

LONDON, July 9 (Reuters) - A French move to allow the use of Roche's cancer drug Avastin as a cheap alternative eye treatment, even though it is not designed for this purpose, was criticised by the pharmaceutical industry on Wednesday.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) said the French decision - approved by lawmakers on Tuesday - undermined Europe's regulatory framework by endorsing off-label use of medicines for economic reasons.

"A worrying trend is growing across Europe with governments bypassing important health safeguards and making public health decisions based purely on short-term economic considerations," EFPIA director general Richard Bergstrom said in a statement.

"This is a serious public health issue which the European Commission must address urgently before it becomes more widespread."

The French government amended its social security budget bill to allow doctors to use Avastin as a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - a leading cause of blindness among the elderly. Lawmakers in France's lower house endorsed the new budget with 272 votes for and 234 against.

The decision opens a new front in a long-running battle over the unapproved use of Avastin in eye care and underscores how cash-strapped governments are finding creative ways to contain ballooning healthcare costs.

Roche's Avastin is not approved by health regulators as a treatment for AMD, but works in a similar way to the treatments currently authorised for AMD - Lucentis, marketed by Novartis and Roche, and Eylea, from Germany's Bayer and Regeneron.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by David Evans)

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