Cheap blindness drug should be made widely available: WHO

May 19, 2015 11:31
The WHO has favored the much cheaper Avastin for treating age-related wet macular degeneration, rather than the expensive licensed drug Lucentis, Photo: The Guardian

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged all countries to make available a cheap, unlicensed drug to prevent blindness in older people, rather than an expensive licensed version promoted by pharmaceutical firms.

Following a hearing, a WHO panel has rejected an application from Novartis to have the expensive licensed drug Lucentis added to the list of drugs all countries should stock, The Guardian reported.

The panel has instead recommended the use of Avastin for treating age-related wet macular degeneration, according to the report.

Avastin, primarily a bowel cancer drug, is similar to Lucentis but 40 times cheaper when split into the tiny doses to be injected in the eye.

The two drugs are made by the same company, Genentech, owned by the Swiss giant Roche, which has declined to seek a license for Avastin to prevent blindness.

Novartis markets Lucentis in Europe.

Critics accuse the companies of blocking access to a cheap drug that could slow or prevent blindness in millions of people around the world.

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