LONDON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Britain's National Health Service says it wants access to an inexpensive drug to combat a leading cause of blindness despite drug companies' resistance.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which determines which drugs may be prescribed by the NHS, has decided to move toward an official approval of a drug, Avastin, widely and cheaply used to prevent wet age-related macular degeneration, The Guardian reported Sunday.
However, drug companies that make and market it refuse to seek a license for that use, as they already have a licensed version that is many times more expensive.
Avastin is approved for bowel cancer, but ophthalmologists in the United States found that split into tiny doses suitable for injection into the eye, it can halt and even reverse the progress of wet AMD, the most common cause of blindness.
Eye specialists around the world have been using Avastin in this way, splitting a vial into many tiny doses to make it relatively cheap.
But manufacturer Genentech and the Swiss drugs company Roche, which markets Avastin in Britain, have fought this use.
Genentech has produced and licensed a very similar but far more costly version it calls Lucentis, and which has been approved by the institute for the NHS.
The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals pharmacy, which has been producing Avastin for eyes, charges $75 a dose.
Lucentis costs about $1,100 a dose.
The institute rarely appraises unlicensed drugs, but says it has decided that it will do so with Avastin for eyes.