Novartis' Alcon unit has launched Jetrea for an age-related progressive, sight-threatening condition in the UK, its first market.

The launch comes less than a month after European Commission approved Jetrea (ocriplasmin) for the treatment of vitreomacular traction (VMT), including when associated with macular hole of diameter less than or equal to 400 microns. That green light triggered a 45 million milestone payment from Alcon to ThromboGenics as part of a licensing deal signed a year ago.

The first sale of Jetrea in the UK, which is administered through a one-time, single intravitreal injection, will boost the Belgian biotech's finances by a further 45 million euros. The treatment is currently undergoing a single technology appraisal by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the outcome of the STA, which will decide on reimbursement, is expected in the final quarter of 2013.

Jetrea is the only drug approved for VMT, which is caused by the vitreous humour having an abnormally strong attachment to the central part of the retina which may lead to visual distortion, decreased visual acuity and central blindness. It is estimated that 250,000-300,000 patients in Europe suffer from this condition and currently the only available treatment in the EU is ‘observation’ or ‘watchful waiting’ until a patient receives surgery, which for many patients is not a suitable option.

Patrik De Haes, chief executive at ThromboGenics, which markets Jetrea on its own in the USA, said he expects Alcon will roll out the drug into other European markets in the coming months and his firm is "working with our partner to ensure that all the support for physicians, payers and patients is fully in place".

Earlier this week, NICE issued final draft guidance recommending Novartis' Lucentis (ranibizumab) as a treatment for sight problems caused by macular oedema, provided the Swiss major makes the drug available under an agreed patient access scheme.