Novartis will drop its legal case against an NHS body that was refusing to fund its eye drug Lucentis.

The case was set to begin next week, but the Swiss firm told PharmaTimes Online that it “will [now] withdraw its request to the court for a judicial review”.

In April, Novartis said it would be forcing a judicial review over the Cluster’s policy to favour Roche’s cancer drug Avastin (bevacizumab) to treat the eye disease wet age-related macular oedema, even though it is not licensed for this condition.

This drug was being used ahead of Novartis’ chemically similar drug Lucentis (ranibizumab), the only drug NICE-approved for this condition. 

There is a major price difference between the two medicines when used for wet AMD, and the SHIP Cluster was able to dramatically reduce its £7.5 million bill that it forks out every year for Novartis’ drug by opting for Avastin.

But in an unexpected move, Novartis lowered the UK price of Lucentis in July, (the new price remains confidential), which in turn allowed the Cluster to reverse its policy. SHIP now recommends using only Lucentis for wet AMD, forsaking Avastin.

These events have therefore made the judicial review unnecessary, and it now looks likely that the start of the case – that was scheduled for 8 October – will not go ahead.


The government is hoping to end such practices – without the need for legal cases - using its new NICE scorecard, which was rolled out in September.

This scorecard will name and shame those NHS bodies not making NICE-approved drugs available to patients within three months of the watchdog’s guidance, and aims to secure faster uptake of these medicines throughout the NHS.

This should go some way to stopping other clusters following SHIP’s original policy, and will be a warning to all NHS bodies that draw up drug formularies not to leave out drugs deemed cost-effective by NICE in order to save money.

Even though the case will not go ahead, this whole process would have left a bitter taste in in the public’s mouth, given that a pharma firm was essentially suing the NHS to get its way.

But many senior executives backed Novartis’ decision to force the review, with the chairman of NICE, Sir Michael Rawlins, suggesting that more organisations should sue the NHS to ensure the uptake of NICE-approved drugs.

Speaking at the ABPI conference earlier this year, the chief executive of the ABPI, Stephen Whitehead, also supported Novartis’ decision to sue, saying he though the firm would definitely win its case. 


Find out more about these issues at the PharmaTimes Directors’ Club debate next month, where we will be asking: “Will the NICE innovation scorecard improve medicines uptake?”