Page last updated at 04:21 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 05:21 UK

Sight-saving injection approved

An eye
The AMD disease leads to a progressive loss of sight

Thousands of patients in England and Wales will soon be getting the sight-saving drug Lucentis on the NHS.

The injection treats age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of sight loss in the UK.

Some Primary Care Trusts in England and Wales only made treatment available to patients who had already lost their sight in one eye.

The drug, which is already available in Scotland, will be part funded by the manufacturer Novartis.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) is publishing its final appraisal document, to ensure that all trusts fund the drug.

The disease destroys the central region of the retina - the macula - leading to gradual loss of sight.

With this decision, it means that patients are no longer put in a situation where they have to choose between their sight and their life savings
Barbara McLaughlan

It comes in two forms - wet and dry - with the dry form being much more common. However, the wet type is more aggressive and is responsible for about 90% of blindness caused by the condition.

If there are no appeals, Nice's final guidance will be published in June and the NHS is then expected to implement its recommendation for using Lucentis, which is also called ranibizumab.

Some 19,000 of the 26,000 people diagnosed with wet AMD every year live in England and Wales.

Costs covered

Nice also announced that the NHS would only fund a course of 14 injections, with the cost of any more being met by the manufacturer Novartis.

This scheme, labelled as "dose-capping", was recommended by Novartis, which will reimburse the NHS for any additional jabs.

The two-year cost of Lucentis is about 10,700, for a course of eight injections in the first year and six injections in the second year.

Barbara McLaughlan, of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, has been campaigning on behalf of patients.

She said: "This is really a huge step, because we've been fighting for two years to make sure that people get access to the treatment.

"At the moment, if you develop wet AMD, you're most likely to be told you'll just have to lose your sight in one eye before you can get treatment on the NHS, and in some areas you may be told that you cannot be treated unless you can pay yourself.

"With this decision, it means that patients are no longer put in a situation where they have to choose between their sight and their life savings."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The dose capping scheme put forward by Novartis, and which Nice has endorsed, means the NHS will be reimbursed for the cost of Lucentis if a patient requires more than 14 doses per eye.

"This benefits both patients and the NHS. This scheme will come into effect when Nice issues its final guidance, and will remain in place until the next review of Lucentis by Nice."

Woman 'denied sight-save drugs'
11 Mar 08 |  London
Man in NHS battle 'to save sight'
22 Jan 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire

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