August 27, 2008

NHS Drug Decision Brings Hope for Thousands Facing Blindness

By Mike Waites Health Correspondent

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) has backed NHS treatment using the drug Lucentis for the devastating eye condition wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) following a two- and-half-year battle by patients.The Yorkshire Post revealed last month that people affected by the condition in the region are already being treated using the drug but the decision means the national postcode lottery of care will now end.The disease is the leading cause of sight loss in the UK, affecting 26,000 people each year, and can lead to blindness within three months.The drug will cost over 17m a year in Yorkshire for more than 2,000 patients.Until now, patients have had to wait until their second eye is affected or get private treatment with the drug. The two-year cost of 14 injections runs to 10,700, but under a scheme agreed by manufacturer Novartis it will bear the costs of further injections if they are needed.A decision over the treatment had been delayed after Nice last year refused to approve the drug, generating a record 13,000 objections.Steve Winyard, head of campaigns at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said the decision would bring "overwhelming relief to desperate people across the country"."Finally the torment faced by elderly people forced to either spend their life savings on private treatment or go blind is over," he said.Tom Bremridge, chief executive of the Macular Disease Society, said the delay had been "cruel and unnecessary"."Many hundreds of vulnerable patients have been subjected to an appalling emotional rollercoaster ride for the past two years during which many of them have lost their remaining sight."Nice chief executive Andrew Dillon said the drug was expensive but treatment would lead to financial savings as well as improve the lives of sufferers."AMD results in reduced quality of life and increased risks of illness, particularly in relation to accidents especially falls and psychological ill-health," he said."Studies have also demonstrated that patients with visual impairment tend to have longer hospitalisations, make greater use of health and community care services and are more likely to be admitted to nursing homes."It has been estimated that the costs related to sight impairment for patients treated with Lucentis are around 8,000 cheaper than for patients who receive best supp-ortive care over a 10-year period."Gavin Walters, a retinal specialist at Harrogate and York hospitals, said: "Wet AMD can have a terrible effect on a person's quality of life, taking away patients' independence and their confidence. This guidance will definitely help patients gain better access to treatment."Trials show Lucentis maintains vision in nine out of 10 patients and even improves it in three out of 10. A second drug, Macugen, has not been approved.

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