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NICE considers using cancer drug to prevent blindness

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The Department of Health has asked NICE to examine whether a breast cancer drug found to help prevent blindness should be available on the NHS to treat wet age-related macular degeneration.

Avastin is already used “off label” to treat wet AMD, which is a leading cause of sight loss in the UK.

Researchers have called for the drug to be licensed for use to provide a cheaper alternative to Lucentis, which costs around £10,000 per patient. There is currently no established cost for Avastin for wet AMD.

Two clinical trials comparing the use of Avastin and Lucentis are expected to publish results in late 2011 and early 2012.

Wet AMD is caused by abnormal growth of blood vessels around the eye. It can be treated by stopping the growth of a natural protein called vascular endothelial growth factor. Avastin inhibits the function of VEGF to stop tumour growth by preventing the formation of new blood vessels.

The research, published online in the British Medical Journal, said Avastin should be implemented immediately in those countries that cannot afford Lucentis.

A spokeswoman for the DH said ministers had asked NICE to see whether it would be possible to undertake an appraisal and to canvass the views of other organisations.

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