Patients in England suffering from a disease which causes blindness are to get access to a sight-saving drug.
The Lucentis drug treats ‘wet’ age-related Macular Degeneration, the leading cause of sight loss in the country.
What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)? AMD is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision making difficult or even impossible to see objects clearly in common daily tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine details. AMD is a painless condition and in some cases, advances so slowly that people hardly even notice the change in their vision. In others, the disease can progress faster and can lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss for people aged 60 and over. It occurs in two forms: wet and dry, the dry form being more common. However, the wet type is more aggressive and is responsible for about 90% of blindness caused by the condition. (Source: National Eye Institute)
Treatment The Lucentis drug is already available in Scotland, while Wales and Northern Ireland have said they will fund it. The drug is administered through injections which are described as a modern wonder in science. Almost 20,000 people per year are diagnosed with wet AMD in England, it is the leading cause of blindness in the UK. Treatment however, is expensive at £10,000 per eye for a two-year course of injections. As a result, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the body which assesses drugs for the NHS had originally said patients should wait until they went blind in one eye. The NHS will fund 14 injections, with the cost of any more being met by manufacturer Novartis in a scheme dubbed “dose capping”. It means that the torment faced by elderly people, forced to either spend their life savings on private treatment or go blind, is over.
Cheaper Alternative Eye surgeon from Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, Michael Lavin, has been using the cheaper alternative drug Avastin to treat wet AMD since 2005. He says as a doctor he is happy to use either drug, describing their effectiveness as “probably equivalent”. But he adds “As a tax-payer, I want to know why the NHS is going to spend 30 to 50 times as much on a drug when there is a cheaper alternative.”
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