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New blindness treatment moves closer to market

Published on 28/11/06 at 04:46pm

Patients suffering from the leading cause of blindness could soon benefit from a new treatment after it gained preliminary approval in Europe.

Key European regulatory committee the CHMP has recommended Novartis' Lucentis (ranibizumab) for approval to treat neovascular age-related macular degeneration treatment or wet AMD.

Once it receives full approval, Lucentis will compete with Pfizer's Macugen (pegaptanib), which, in May, became the first in this class of anti-vascular growth factor (VEGF) treatments to be launched in Europe.

Lucentis also faces the prospect of falling into the same trap as Macugen, which is being denied to patients as, at present, NICE guidance has not yet been issued.

NICE is due to appraise Macugen and Lucentis in August 2007, and Novartis says Lucentis, already approved in the US, Switzerland and India, is the first treatment to improve vision in sufferers.

Prof Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, chairman of the University of Viennas ophthalmology department, said: "With Lucentis, the future of wet AMD treatment is certainly brighter than ever. The drug gives real hope to wet AMD patients since it is the first and only therapy proven in clinical trials to help them regain vision on average.

"This means that many patients may regain the ability to do everyday activities such as reading, driving a car, cooking or going up and down stairs  ultimately helping to restore their independence."

Wet AMD is caused by growth of abnormal blood vessels under the macula - the part of the retina responsible for central vision - vital for everyday activities, such as reading, writing, telling the time or identifying faces.

The condition is the leading cause of blindness in people aged over 60 in the western world, affecting up to 26,000 people in the UK alone, and it is estimated that blindness costs the NHS around £5 billion a year.

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