A drug typically used to treat bowel cancer is effective in preventing sight loss, experts have said.
Avastin is already used “off-label” around the world to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a leading cause of blindness in the UK.
The drug would provide a cheaper alternative to Lucentis, which is currently licensed to treat AMD and costs around Â£10,000 per patient.
The Department of Health has asked the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to examine whether Avastin would be suitable for more widespread treatment of wet AMD patients on the NHS.
Two clinical trials comparing the use of Avastin and Lucentis are expected to publish results in late 2011 and early 2012.
Wet AMD is caused by abnormal growth of blood vessels around the eye.
It can be treated by stopping the growth of a natural protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
Avastin inhibits the function of VEGF to stop tumour growth by preventing the formation of new blood vessels.
The new research, published online in the British Medical Journal, said Avastin should be implemented immediately in those countries that cannot afford Lucentis.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said ministers had asked NICE to see whether it would be possible to undertake an appraisal and to canvass the views of other organisations.
Copyright Press Association 2010