eople in the UK could be at risk from losing their sight because they do not know enough about age-related macular degeneration, the results of a new survey indicate.

More than half a million people in the UK suffer from AMD, yet in the survey conducted by Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK and the charity the Royal National Institute for the Blind, 44% of respondents knew nothing about the condition while nine out of 10 failed to correctly identify its symptoms.

“These are alarming findings which mean that thousands could be vulnerable to late diagnosis,” warned Ophthalmologist Mr Kevin Gregory-Evans from Western Eye Hospital and Imperial College London. “In some cases this could lead to avoidable sight loss.”

AMD affects people aged 55 or over but can remain undiagnosed for some time, often only being detected after serious loss of visual function. Risk factors include: age; smoking; family history of AMD; cardiovascular disease; and being Caucasian. Symptoms are: blurred vision; distortion of straight lines; blind spots; and loss of central vision.

However, although sight loss is a significant risk it is not inevitable, and early detection of the disease followed by prompt treatment could help to slow visual deterioration, the companies point out.

New campaign launched
Consequently, Novartis, which makes the wet-AMD drug Lucentis (ranibizumab), and the RNIB are launching a new campaign today called ‘be AMD aware’ to help raise awareness of the condition and to encourage people aged over 55 to have regular eye checks.

The campaign is centred around the tagline ‘Don’t turn a blind eye to AMD’, and will involve both print and TV advertising. In addition, a new website - www.beAMDaware.co.uk - has been set up to provide information on the disease.

“We hope the ‘be AMD aware’ campaign helps more people realise they need to look after their eye health, have regular eye checks and be vigilant to the symptoms of AMD, to catch it early,” commented Sonal Rughani, Optometrist from the RNIB.

NICE approval
Although there is currently no treatment available for dry AMD, patients with wet forms of the condition were given a new hope last autumn when the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence endorsed the use of Novartis’ Lucentis on the National Health Service for wet-AMD.

The Institute had originally rejected the drug back in 2007, as well as Pfizer’s Macugen (pegaptanib), on grounds that they were not a cost-effective use of NHS resources. But it agreed to reconsider its position following a massive campaign led by the RNIB and eventually changed its mind on Lucentis, helped by Novartis’ offer of a cost-capping scheme.

Under the scheme, the NHS pays for treatment with Lucentis but Novartis will pick up the tab should more than 14 injections be required.