Novartis unit Alcon's Jetrea is well on the way to being accepted for use on the National Health Service in England and Wales, giving patients access to the only available therapy for a rare eye condition called vitreomacular traction.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has this morning published final draft guidance recommending the drug as an option to treat the condition, after concluding that it is a cost-effective use of resources.

More specifically, NICE says Jetrea (ocriplasmin) should be offered to patients with the condition who have a macular hole with a diameter of 400 micrometres or less, and only if they have severe symptoms and an epiretinal membrane is not present.

The drug costs £2,500 per injection (just one of which is needed for treatment), and NICE concluded that the cost per QALY gained was likely to be no more than about £21,000, falling comfortably under the £30,000 threshold for what is considered to be value for money for the NHS.

Avoiding surgery

"Ocriplasmin injection represents an innovation in treating patients with vitreomacular traction and, as it provides an alternative to ‘watch and wait’ and/or surgery, would be welcomed by clinicians and patients," said Professor Carole Longson, the Institute's Health Technology Evaluation Centre Director. 

"For suitable patients, the injection offers a treatment that may avoid the need for eye surgery, and means those unsuited to surgery can now be treated, often before their condition deteriorates," added Tim Jackson, Consultant Retinal Surgeon at King's College Hospital, noting that the decision "is an important step forward in increasing the treatment options for patients and eye doctors".

The incidence of vitreomacular traction - when the vitreous pulls abnormally on the retina distorting vision - in the UK is not known, but it is estimated that 250,000-300,000 patients in Europe suffer from this condition.

Novartis' Alcon unit launched Jetrea in the UK in April, after it licensed the drug from ThromboGenics last year.