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Novartis and Bayer to fight ‘unlawful’ UK court judgment allowing new AMD treatment

Pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Bayer are fighting a landmark court judgment allowing UK doctors to offer an unlicensed treatment that competes with their products.

In a recent decision expected to save the National Health Service (NHS) hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the High Court ruled competing drug Avastin (bevacizumab) could be offered to certain patients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Both drug companies have appealed the decision, claiming it’s “unlawful” and compromises patient safety. The case was brought by Novartis and Bayer against 12 NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the north of England, the BBC reported.

The NHS groups were offering patients a choice between Lucentis (Novartis) and Eylea (Bayer) injections – both licensed for UK eye treatment – and Avastin. Avastin is a cheaper drug recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for eye treatment, but only licensed for cancer in the UK.

The Lucentis injection costs £561 (AU$1,009), while Eylea costs £800 (AU$1,439). By comparison, Avastin costs about £28 (AU$50.38) per injection, undercutting its competitors 30-fold.

A Novartis company release stated: “This sets a dangerous precedent, which we should all be concerned about. Today, people living with wet AMD are now being asked to compromise on the assured quality and safety of their treatment, purely on the basis of cost. This is inappropriate and unnecessary.”

According to, Bayer’s appeal will focus on two key issues; that the supply of unlicensed Avastin is unlawful, and its belief the CCGs’ case “undermines the comprehensive licensing regime for medicines across the EU.”

Avastin is used widely around the world. In January, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) concluded that Avastin was as safe and effective as Lucentis and Eylea.

Dr David Hambleton, CEO of one of the NHS CCGs involved in the case, told the BBC it was a positive outcome for patients and the NHS.

“We’ve always said we think that it’s important that patients should have the choice of a very effective treatment for wet AMD, and it’s actually a fraction of the cost of the other alternatives,” he said.

“We do now is offer patients that choice. We believe that they will support very strongly having a cost-effective, safe treatment and saving the NHS generally a lot of money. It is a victory for common sense over commercial interests.”

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