February 24, 2015 / 7:30 PM / 5 years ago

UK doctors urge use of Roche's Avastin as cheap eye drug

LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - British doctors called on Tuesday for Roche’s cancer drug Avastin to be made routinely available as a cheap alternative for treating people with a debilitating eye disorder.

Doctors from 120 Clinical Commissioning Groups said using Avastin ‘off-label’ to treat the potentially blinding condition of wet Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) could save the National Health Service (NHS) 102 million pounds ($158 million) a year.

Avastin costs about 60 pounds when used for eye injections, far less than Lucentis, which is specifically licensed for wet AMD and is priced at about 700 pounds.

“As clinicians, we are seeing an increase in the incidence of this chronic eye condition due to an ageing population, and as commissioners we have a responsibility to ensure that every pound spent is done so to the best effect,” Dr Amanda Doyle, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said in a statement.

Although Avastin is not licensed for AMD, it works in a similar way to Lucentis, which is marketed in Europe by Novartis . The British doctors said current regulations made it hard for physicians to prescribe Avastin.

Novartis and Roche have always discouraged the substitution of Avastin for Lucentis, arguing that the two drugs were developed for different therapeutic purposes and Lucentis is a safer option.

The issue of whether Avastin should be used as a cheap alternative has long been controversial in Europe. Last year in Italy, Roche and Novartis were accused of collusion in trying to impose the use of Lucentis in AMD - a charge the two companies have denied.

$1 = 0.6474 pounds Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Susan Thomas

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