Canada to decide Lucentis' fate

The Lucentis versus Avastin match has moved to Canada. Officials there are arguing whether to pay the tens of thousands of dollars a year for Lucentis, the Genentech-made and Novartis-marketed drug that's approved to treat wet macular degeneration. Or should they instead reimburse for Avastin, another Genentech-made drug that's shown to be effective against WMD and is much cheaper to boot--but isn't approved by HealthCanada for that use.

Since Lucentis wasn't available in Canada until recently, eye specialists have been using Avastin against WMD. Many have reported success. But Genentech hasn't studied the drug in WMD, and a U.S. NIH study won't be complete until 2010. So provincial and federal health plans can't pay for the drug when it's used against WMD.

The federal panel responsible for deciding which drugs should be covered rejected Lucentis late last year. At Novartis' request, the group is reconsidering that application, and a decision may be announced as early as today. Novartis is pushing hard for the approval; alongside it is the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which got a grant from the drugmaker and is using some of those funds to campaign for Lucentis.

You'll recall that a similar debate has been raging in the U.S. Genentech had tried to cut off Avastin supplies to the compounding pharmacies that repackage it for eye use, but ophthalmologists protested and the company agreed to keep some supply channels open to eye docs.

- read the The Globe and Mail report

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