Lucentis nears final NICE nod for diabetes-related vision loss

Novartis is one step closer to marketing Lucentis in a new group of patients. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence officially changed its mind on the Swiss drugmaker's eye treatment, recommending the pricey injection for use in diabetics.

The NICE move comes as Lucentis faces new competition from Bayer's Eylea in age-related macular degeneration. Bayer launched the head-to-head competitor in December in the U.K.

To win the new recommendation in patients with diabetic macular edema, Novartis offered a discount--as yet undisclosed--off the usual £742-per-injection price (about $1,200).

Novartis ($NVS) has been fighting for Lucentis in the U.K., and not only at NICE. Faced with competition from Avastin, a Roche ($RHHBY) cancer drug used off-label to treat AMD, Novartis is jealously guarding its status as a government-approved choice. When one group of doctors in the NHS was found to be using Avastin rather than Lucentis, Novartis protested--and after offering a discount, won the day.

But now, here comes Eylea. Sold by Regeneron ($REGN) in the U.S., the new drug has proven a formidable competitor. In the U.S. AMD market, Eylea racked up 2012 sales far beyond original expectations. Bayer says Eylea is as effective as Lucentis, but needs to be injected less often. With Bayer sure to come on strong promoting Eylea, Novartis will no doubt be inspired to hit back with its own marketing for Lucentis' new use.

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