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NHS legal victory over drug companies could save hundreds of millions


By Léa Legraien
24 September 2018

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An NHS court victory over two pharmaceutical giants will potentially result in the health service saving £500m a year across the country.

On Friday, the High Court ruled that a group of 12 CCGs ‘acted lawfully’ after providing the drug Avastin to patients with wet age-related mascular degeneration (‘wet AMD’), a common eye condition, rather than alternative medicines Lucentis and Eylea – sold by pharma companies Bayer and Novartis.

The CCGs are: Northumberland; Newcastle Gateshead; North Tyneside; South Tyneside; Darlington; Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield; North Durham; Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees; North Cumbria; Sunderland; Hambleton; Richmondshire and Whitby; and South Tees.

The ruling comes after Bayer and Novartis sued the CCGs for prescribing a cheaper but unlicensed drug.

’30 times cheaper’

Research published in scientific journal Nature in 2015 revealed that switching to bevacizumab (Avastin) could save the NHS £449m per year.

According to South Tyneside CCG chief officer Dr David Hambleton, the drug is ‘30 times cheaper than the most expensive alternative’.

‘The drug is undeniably equally effective, and much less expensive, and the money this will save – in excess of £13.5m per year for the 12 CCGs involved in this litigation alone, and hundreds of millions of pounds across the country – can be ploughed straight back into delivering the very best care possible to our patients,’ Dr Hambleton said.

‘Here in the north, that’s enough to pay for an extra 270 nurses or 266 heart transplants every year, and in a financially stretched NHS that could be life-changing for thousands of our patients.’

Decision ‘jeopardises’ system

Commenting on the ruling, Novartis said the decision ‘threatens to jeopardise a world-leading system that has protected patients for many years by ensuring medicines have been tested rigorously and carefully scrutinised for delivering value’.

The company said: ‘Novartis fully understands the challenges that the NHS faces, which include capacity challenges due to increasing patient numbers.

‘However the use of this unlicensed treatment for wAMD may exacerbate this capacity issue, as clinical trial data indicates that on average more frequent injections will be required.’

In January, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published guidance that showed there were ‘no clinically significant differences in the effectiveness and safety between the different anti-vascular endothelial growth factor treatments’, including Avastin.

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