Health chiefs face a legal fight over plans to give a cheap drug to patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Twelve NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the north-east of England say that saving money by buying a safe and effective – but 10 times cheaper – version of the licensed drug for wet AMD is far preferable to cutting costs in other ways.
Avastin® is currently licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), but not specifically to treat AMD.
Two multinational drug companies are threatening legal action to prevent patients being offered the cheap version of an effective drug, which could save the NHS millions of pounds.
Bayer and Novartis claim that prescribing Avastin® "undermines" guidelines. Bayer produces Eylea® and Novartis produces Lucentis®, which are both licensed to treat AMD.
Bayer said it had to "act to challenge the decision taken by these CCGs" and was "currently considering its position including the possibility of legal proceedings".
Roche, which holds the rights to Avastin®, said licensing takes time and money better spent on the research and development of future treatments.
The 12 CCGs said clinical trials showed Avastin® was suitable and could save them up to £13.5m a year within five years.