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NICE deals blow over blindness drugs

An estimated 20,000 patients will be denied treatment for worsening eyesight every year by recommendations made in new NICE guidelines criticised by doctors and stakeholders.

The preliminary ruling, made in an appraisal consultation document last week, is for a total restriction on pegaptanib and tight controls on the use of ranibizumab.

Both are drugs for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration, but NICE has recommended ranibizumab be given only to patients with predominantly classic wet AMD – about one in five of all people with the condition.

The document also stipulated ranibizumab can only be used in patients affected in both eyes – and for use in the least diseased eye only.

Both ranibizumab and pegaptanib are available for all patients in Scotland, after the Scottish Medicines Consortium approved their use this month in newly diagnosed wet AMD patients.

Andrew Dillon, NICE chief executive, said: 'Most people with AMD only seek help once the disease is beginning to affect their second eye. Our advisory committee believes the right thing to do is to treat as much sight as possible in the better-seeing eye.'

But Mr Winfried Amoaku, chair of the scientific committee of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said the recommendations were 'completely unacceptable'.

'We do not wish to be limited in this way. This is a false economy and risks patients' sight.'

A final decision on the appraisal is due in September.

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