Northern Ireland sufferers of a devastating eye disease could have their sight saved by a new drug being made available on the NHS, under guidelines published today.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has recommended the drug Lucentis after performing a u-turn on draft guidance published last year.
The move was welcomed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), which has campaigned for Lucentis for people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD is the leading cause of sight loss in the UK and destroys the central region of the retina, the macula, leading to progressive loss of sight.
It comes in two forms — wet and dry — with the dry form being far more common. However, the wet type is more aggressive and accounts for around 90% of blindness caused by the condition.
The final guidance, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, recommends Lucentis for treating wet AMD.
In December, Nice dropped one controversial aspect of its draft guidance, which suggested patients would need to lose sight in one eye before the other could be treated.
Nice recommends the use of Lucentis as long as several conditions are met in the eye to be treated.
It also states the NHS will only fund 14 injections, with the cost of any more being met by the manufacturer, in this case Novartis.
This “dose-capping” scheme was recommended by Novartis and has been agreed with the Department of Health.
The cost of a single Lucentis injection is £761.20 (excluding VAT). The two-year cost is £10,700, assuming eight injections the first year and six in the second.
There are 26,000 new cases of wet AMD in the UK each year. The condition can lead to blindness in as little as three months if left untreated.
Joan Armstrong, 82, from Wandsworth in London, whose request for funding has been refused four times by Wandsworth primary care trust, said today: “I'm so happy. I have been fighting to get treatment for over a year and a half, so this is the best news I've had since I started to lose my sight.”