France to back Roche
cancer drug as cheaper eye treatment
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[July 02, 2014]
PARIS (Reuters) - The
French government, looking to cut healthcare costs,
plans to authorize the use of Roche cancer drug Avastin
as an alternative eye disease treatment to the much
pricier Lucentis, marketed by both Roche and Novartis.
The government said on Monday it had introduced an amendment to its
social security budget bill that would allow doctors to use Avastin
as a treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD)- a leading
cause of blindness among the elderly.
The initiator of the measure, Socialist lawmaker Gerard Bapt, argues
that encouraging the use of the drug, which costs 30 times less than
Lucentis, could bring the state annual savings of at least 200
million euros ($273 million).
French lawmakers are due to vote on the social security budget next
Novartis said it "strongly rejects" the health ministry's plans
which it said put patients at risk since Avastin is not safely
formulated to be injected in the eye.
"We do not see how reimbursing off-label use for cost reasons in
France is justified in the interest of public health, where there
are licensed alternatives," the drugmaker said in an emailed
Roche said in a statement financial considerations by national
healthcare bodies should not compromise patient safety and EU law.
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Although Roche's Avastin is not approved by health regulators as a
treatment for AMD, it works in a similar way to Lucentis and costs
around 30 euros a dose in France versus the 900 euros charged for an
injection of Lucentis.
Both Swiss drugmakers have in recent months faced regulatory
scrutiny in France and Italy on suspicion of anti-competitive
practices. The two companies have always discouraged substituting
Avastin for Lucentis, saying the two drugs were developed for
different therapeutic purposes.
Lucentis is marketed by Novartis outside the United States and is
the company's third-biggest seller with sales of $2.38 billion last
year. Sales of Lucentis for Roche, which markets the treatment in
the United States, were 1.9 billion.
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)
(Reporting by Natalie Huet; Additional reporting by Katharina Bart
and Caroline Copley in Zurich.; editing by Tom Pfeiffer and David
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