Novartis may weigh Lucentis price cut in U.K.

A one-two punch from new studies has Novartis ($NVS) weighing a price cut on its eye drug Lucentis. Last week, data comparing that product to its close cousin, Avastin, in macular degeneration patients found the two meds roughly equivalent, efficacy-wise. This week, a U.K study concluded that the two offered similar results with a similar safety profile.

That U.K. study also figured the National Health Service could save £85 million annually by using Avastin off-label in those patients, rather than the much-more-expensive Lucentis. Avastin, intended as a cancer treatment, runs about £60 per injection in the U.K., in doses small enough for eye use, InPharm reports. Lucentis costs £750 per dose.

Now, as InPharm reports, the Swiss drugmaker says it's in talks about "the cost effectiveness of Lucentis across all indications" with the U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. If those talks go the way of similar negotiations in Switzerland, NICE could well nab a discount. Last fall, the Swiss health minister extracted a 30% price cut on the drug, using earlier head-to-head Avastin data as a talking point.

Unlike Avastin, which isn't approved for eye use, Lucentis has regulatory clearance and NICE's recommendation for wet AMD treatment. Some of the NHS' local authorities have been using Avastin off-label instead, however, because of the substantial cost savings. Understandably, Novartis didn't like the idea of NHS turning to its cheaper rival. So, the company has asked for judicial review of that off-label use.

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