Ophthalmologists believe that a drug that prevents older people losing their sight should be routinely available on the NHS, according to an article on The BMJ website.
Avastin (bevacizumab) has been found in clinical trials to be safe and effective for patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is also cheaper than the officially approved treatment, Lucentis (Ranibizumab).
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists say switching to the drug could save the NHS £100m. Avastin is licensed for the treatment of some cancers, but does not have a licence for use in AMD. Both drugs are made by Roche. However, Roche has not applied for a licence for Avastin's use to treat AMD.
Licensed medicines can be used to treat diseases and conditions that they were not originally licensed for. This is also known as off-label. But the General Medical Council says doctors should only do this if there is no "suitably licensed medicine that will meet the patient’s need.”
The college is asking that health regulators redress this issue. In doing so, ophthalmologists will have the option to use Avastin as an effective treatment for their AMD patients in the UK, saving the NHS millions of pounds a year and relieving some of the current capacity issues.
Professor Andrew Lotery, co-author of the editorial said: “I feel it is important to highlight the evidence of an effective drug treatment. Not only does bevacizumab provide benefits for patients, it provides ophthalmologists with alternative treatments and provides savings for the NHS.
"This is particularly important at this time when we have been asked to preserve and innovate health services. We know funding is limited and will be for some time.”