Novartis has come under fire for trying to derail trials of an eye treatment drug that would save money for the NHS – an allegation the pharmaceutical company denies.
Avastin, officially a cancer drug, is highly effective at treating wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that affects around 26,00 people in the UK each year and can eventually leads to blindness. It is sometimes prescribed by doctors because it provides good value, but it is still unlicensed and so is not used widely.
Owned by Roche, it costs between £50 and £65 for one dose of treatment, compared to the £740 cost of Lucentis – the licensed treatment marketed by Novartis in the UK. If Avastin replaced Lucentis as the mainstream drug for AMD, this would free up around £102m extra for the NHS each year.
But according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Novartis has been running a campaign to “undermine and divert attention” from the results of positive medical trials of Avastin. The journal claims that under the Freedom of information Act, it obtained emails revealing how clinicians associated with Novartis tried to persuade some primary care trusts to pull out of one trial and derail another.
"Doctors and academics have carried out clinical trials despite threats and intimidation - and doctors' leaders should follow suit and not allow themselves to be bullied either,” said Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ.
A spokesperson for Novartis responded to the claims by telling the BBC it is “committed” to improving the health of its patients, and that conversations with healthcare workers are always an ongoing part of drug trials.
We take any allegations seriously and are closely reviewing the content of the article.Novartis is committed to improving health outcomes for patients with serious eye disease as demonstrated by our substantial engagement in ophthalmology, including significant research and development efforts in the UK.Discussions with UK study sites and healthcare professionals occur during all stages of these clinical trials.