August 27, 2008

Blindness Drug Given Go-Ahead for Use on NHS

By Jane Kirby

Thousands OF people with a devastating eye disease could have their sight saved by a new drug being made available on the NHS, under guidelines published today.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has recommended the drug Lucentis, which is already approved in Scotland, after performing a u-turn on draft guidance published last year.

The move was welcomed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), which has campaigned for Lucentis for thousands of people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the leading cause of sight loss in Britain and destroys the central region of the retina, the macula, leading to progressive loss of sight. It comes in two forms - wet and dry - with the dry form being far more common. However, the wet type is the more aggressive and accounts for around 90 per cent of blindness caused by the condition.

The final guidance, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, recommends Lucentis for treating wet AMD. In December, Nice dropped one of the most controversial aspects of its draft guidance, which suggested that patients would need to lose sight in one eye before the other could be treated.

The two-year cost of Lucentis is hust over 10,000, assuming eight injections in the first year and six injections in the second year.

Andrew Dillon, Nice chief executive, said: "Lucentis is an expensive drug, costing more than 10,000 for each eye treated.

"But that cost needs to be balanced against the likely cost savings.

"AMD results in reduced quality of life and increased risks of illness, particularly in relation to accidents - especially falls - and psychological ill-health.

"Studies have also demonstrated that patients with visual impairment tend to have longer stays in hospital, make greater use of health and community care services and are more likely to be admitted to nursing homes.

"Our guidance means patients who are suitable for this treatment will have the same access to it, irrespective of where they live."

Steve Winyard, of the RNIB, said: "We've been waiting for this for over two years.

"It is a victory for thousands, bringing overwhelming relief to desperate people across the country.

"Nice's guidance will finally bring an end to a cruel postcode lottery"

There are 26,000 new cases of wet AMD in Britain each year. It can lead to blindness in as little as three months if left untreated.

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