Genentech says it has sorted out a dispute with doctors concerning off-label use of its cancer blockbuster Avastin for age-related macular degeneration, a far cheaper alternative to the firm's Lucentis which is approved for the condition.

The problem started in October when Genentech announced that Avastin (bevacizumab) will no longer be supplied to independent compounding pharmacies that divide vials so that ophthalmologists can use it in an unapproved way to treat AMD. Avastin works in a similar way to Lucentis (ranibuzumab), which was approved last year to treat wet AMD and had third-quarter turnover of $198 million, a rise of 29%, but sales have slowed down as physicians were preferring to prescribe Avastin as the price-per-dose of the latter is about 40 to 50 times cheaper than Lucentis, which costs $2,000.

Now, in collaboration with the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Retina Specialists, Genentech will allow doctors to buy Avastin from wholesalers, which will ship the drug to compounding pharmacies. The US biotechnology giant said it continues to believe Lucentis "is the most appropriate treatment" for AMD patients "because it was specifically designed, formally studied, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and manufactured for intraocular delivery". However, it added that "at the same time, Genentech does not interfere with physicians' prescribing choices and believes that physicians should be able to prescribe the treatment they believe is most appropriate for their patients".