Drugs firm takes cost conscious doctors to court


Independent experts have condemned the Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis for trying to force the NHS to buy an expensive drug to treat patients suffering from a degenerative eye disease, rather than using a cheaper, unlicensed alternative.

Novartis is taking four NHS areas in the south of England to a judicial review because they have allowed doctors to prescribe the anti-cancer drug Avastin to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration.

Novartis wants Southampton, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth to revoke the policy of prescribing Avastin, but is not making any financial claims of the Primary Care Trusts or the NHS.

Novartis says Avastin is unlicensed for the eye disease and wants its own licensed drug Lucentis, which costs £740 an injection compared with £60, to be used.

John Harris, a professor of medical ethics at Manchester University, said companies such as Novartis should not be allowed to block attempts at using more cost-effective treatments to maximise their profits.

"It is legitimate for healthcare providers to appraise and approve off-label treatments which are significantly more cost-effective than those that pharma are prepared to licence," Professor Harris said.