At a glance: Pfizer and Novartis plan eye disease strategies

What’s the story? Novartis has just submitted its drug Lucentis for European regulatory approval for the treatment of ‘wet AMD’ – or neovascular age-related macular degeneration. Meanwhile, Pfizer has received EU approval for its own treatment, Macugen. Both products aim to combat the condition, which leads to a complete loss of vision if untreated.

Do I hear the words 'head-to-head PR battle'?
Both companies are at pains to stress that it is early days. Assuming it gets approval, PR for Lucentis in the UK will be handled by The Workhouse. Cohn & Wolfe has the global account. At Pfizer, a spokeswoman says the in-house team is preparing for launch but 'not actively promoting' the drug at the moment. Ketchum is handling PR, but there are no details yet as to the nature of its campaign.

How do the drugs work?
Both aim to inhibit proteins in a bid to reduce the blood vessel growth and leakage that cause the disease to progress. In trials, Macugen prevented severe vision loss at twice the rate
of standard care, and Pfizer says it is the first treatment to target the underlying disease process. Lucentis maintained or improved vision in up to 96 per cent of patients treated, Novartis says.

So they have approval outside of the European Union?
Macugen has been approved in countries including the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Pakistan. Lucentis has been submitted to US regulatory authorities by Genentech, which has the commercial rights for the drug in North America.

What's the global scale of the 'wet AMD' problem?
AMD affects an estimated 25 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of blindness in people aged over 60 in developed countries. Wet AMD accounts for ten to 15 per cent of all AMD cases in the UK but results in 90 per cent of the blindness caused by this condition.

'Macular degeneration' sounds familiar...
Indeed. UK company Butterflies Healthcare got itself in a tangle with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency a couple of weeks ago over claims that one of its nutritional supplements could slow AMD (PRWeek, 10 March).

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