Novartis deterred UK physicians from prescribing Avastin, report says

April 7, 2015

Novartis attempted to block studies in the United Kingdom comparing ranibizumab (Lucentis) and bevacizumab (Avastin) for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to an article published in The BJM, an international peer-reviewed medical journal.

Frimley, Surrey, United Kingdom-Novartis attempted to block studies in the United Kingdom comparing ranibizumab (Lucentis) and bevacizumab (Avastin) for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to an article published in The BJM, an international peer-reviewed medical journal.

While only ranibizumab is approved to treat wet AMD, at least six trial results suggested bevacizumab is just as effective for the disease and could save the National Health Service (NHS) $141 million annually.

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Roche-headquartered in Basel, Switzerland-develops both drugs, with Novartis marketing ranibizumab in the United Kingdom.

According to the article, physicians with ties to Novartis attempted to discourage primary care trusts (part of the National Health Service in England) from participating in a study of bevacizumab for wet AMD, while the company was accused of attempting to derail a second study. Additionally, once the studies were published, the article claims Novartis sought to “undermine and divert attention from the results,” including raising safety concerns both directly and through key opinion leaders and charities.

“Alex Foss, BM, BCh, MA, MRCP, FRCOphth, chief investigator of the TANDEM trial-which assessed the dosing of (bevacizumab) in patients with wet AMD-alleged that during the planning stage of the study, a Novartis representative attempted to divert him to company-supported research, with the promise of additional funding for future projects,” First Word Pharma reported.

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Furthermore, the BMJ article noted that ranibizumab is priced at $1,100 per dose, while bevacizumab costs between $74 and $96 per dose.

The use of ranibizumab costs the NHS about $362 million a year.

Commenting on the findings, Novartis-in a prepared statement-stressed that the company “is committed to high standards of ethical business conduct.

“Novartis do not tolerate unethical behavior by its associates in any country, and has a comprehensive compliance program in place to help ensure that our associates comply with the company’s code of conduct and all applicable laws,” the company continued.

Patient safety is of extreme importance, Novartis added.

“(We) strongly believe that patients have the right to the highest standard of care and that this right should be defended to promote safety and quality as the key drivers of health policy,” the company said.