In Brief

Novartis 'bullied' doctors to drop trial of cheaper drugs

Drug firm accused of trying to block clinical trials of an eye drug which doctors say could save the NHS £100m

A pharmaceutical company has tried to block publically-funded trials into an alternative drug, according to the country's leading medical journal.

Novartis has been accused of bullying researchers into dropping clinical trials of the drug Avastin, which doctors believe could be a cheap and effective treatment for a serious eye condition.

Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common eye conditions, affecting 26,000 people in the UK each year, according to the BBC. If left untreated, it can lead to partial blindness.

The drug currently licensed to treat the condition is Lucentis, which costs the NHS around £740 per dose. However, preliminary trials have shown that Avastin is just as effective at treating AMD and is significantly cheaper at £50 and £65 per dose. Both drugs are owned by the same company, but Lucentis is marketed by Novartis.

The British Medical Journal claims that clinicians with links to Novartis attempted to persuade doctors to drop one trial and "derail" another. The trial's lead researcher also said he was offered the prospect of future funds for personal research projects if he left the trial, the Daily Telegraph reports.

"Doctors and academics have carried out clinical trials despite threats and intimidation – and doctors' leaders should follow suit and not allow themselves to be bullied either," said the journal's editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee.

Novartis has denied the claims, insisting it is "committed to high standards of ethical business conduct". 

Although not licensed to treat the eye condition, doctors continue to prescribe Avastin to patients as a cheaper alternative. Last year, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists requested that the drug be made available to treat AMD, saying it could save the NHS £100m.

Godlee said that the "web of misinformation" about drug prescriptions is costing the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds a year "by scaring doctors from using cheap and effective medicines."

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