LONDON Britain's healthcare cost watchdog has given its backing to eye drug Lucentis to treat diabetes-related problems after Swiss drugmaker Novartis offered it at a discount to the National Health Service.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), in a reversal of an earlier decision, said on Friday Lucentis should now be available for patients with diabetic macular oedema (DMO).
Lucentis is already approved by NICE to treat wet age-related macular degeneration.
In November 2011, NICE said it could not recommend Lucentis, known generically as ranibizumab, as an effective use of NHS resources for DMO. On Friday, it said a fresh approach from Novartis had prompted a review of that decision.
Novartis has offered a new Patient Access Scheme, which would make Lucentis available at an undisclosed discounted, NICE said, and submitted new analyses showing the drug's superior relative effect in a sub-group of people with DMO.
As a result, NICE was now "pleased to recommend ranibizumab as a treatment option for some people with visual impairment caused by diabetic macular oedema," Carole Longson, NICE's health technology evaluation centre director, said.
NICE said the agreement with Novartis was confidential, and did not say how deep the discount would be or give a reference price for Lucentis. The list price for Lucentis is 742.17 pounds ($1,200) per injection.
The drug is designed to be given monthly and continued until vision is stable over three consecutive assessments.
Novartis said NICE's decision was an important and long-awaited step forward in improving care for people with DMO, adding an estimated 25,000 people with the condition could soon be eligible for Lucentis treatment.
NICE's recommendation is draft guidance and open to appeal before a final recommendation is issued to the NHS in February.
($1 = 0.6141 pound)
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Dan Lalor and David Cowell)