Pharmaceutical companies are threatening the NHS with legal action for selling an affordable version of a drug that is effective against blindness.

Avastin, an anti-cancer drug has been used by 12 NHS Commissioning Groups (NCGs) in the North-East of the UK, because it is 10 times cheaper than the licensed drug Lucentis and ten years ago, it was proven to be just as effective against wet macular degeneration.

Avastin is widely used in the United States and other countries around the world to treat macular degeneration.

NCGs argue that the use of the drug could save the NHS £84 million a year.

However, pharmaceutical giants Lucentis and Novartis and Bayer said that they will bring a court case against the NHS if they did not switch to the more expensive drug.

Dr David Hambleton, chief officer of the South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group, which is one of the 12 commissioning groups, said that offering patients Avastin, with the option to choose Lucentis if they wanted was a “no brainer”.

He explained that the option had the potential to save significant amounts of money without sacrificing safety or efficacy.

In a statement made within the British Medical Journal, he added: “Every patient who chooses the cheaper alternative drug will help the NHS to fund important medical treatment in other areas. We want to have informed conversations with our patients so that they understand the wider effects of the choices we collectively make.”

The legal threats made by the pharmaceutical companies are not because there is any question over the safety or effectiveness of the cheaper drug.

Rather, they are seeking judicial review because of a licensing issue that would harm their profits.

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