AT A GLANCE: NICE recommendation prompts comms rethink

What’s the story here?
This is about two treatments for a condition that causes blindness, so-called ‘wet’ age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Last week the National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended the use of Lucentis by Novartis for patients who have the problem in both eyes – which is only about 20 per cent of cases. Pfizer’s Macugen is not recommended at all.

And this wasn’t what campaigners wanted to hear?
The Guardian said it would endanger 20,000 people each year ‘in the UK’, which isn’t actually true since the NICE ruling only affects England and Wales. The Scottish Medicines Consor­tium have approved use of both drugs.

What are the brands themselves doing about it?
This is a preliminary ruling, with a final decision expected in September, and Novartis will now put its formal points to the NICE consultation. Sarra Martin, associate director of The Workhouse, which handles PR for Lucentis, says the agency will review comms activity next month. Mean­while Pfizer will also re-submit its contributions on Macugen to NICE.

Presumably eye charities have had something to say?
They have been, not to put too fine a point on it, apoplectic. ‘Worse than we ever imagined it could be,’ said the Royal National Institute for the Blind. ‘Cruel and totally unacceptable,’ said the Macular Disease Society.

What arguments are comms camp­aigns likely to use?
Among the most obvious are: for Lucentis, allowing one eye to go blind before treating the other makes no sense; both drugs have been effective in trials; and other countries in Europe recommend the drugs.

And the arguments against?
Cost is the main one. Lucentis is £760 per monthly injection, which means it’s £18,300 for a course on one eye. NICE emphasised the need to target drugs ‘where they give the most benefits’.

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