RNIB says claims that it would have 'scuppered' trial of eye drug are absurd

A report in the British Medical Journal included claims that the drug company Novartis had attempted to derail clinical trials of a rival to its Lucentis

Charity rubbished claims
Charity rubbished claims

The sight-loss charity the RNIB has said it is "absurd" to suggest that a drug company could turn to it for help to scupper the trial of a drug after it was named in an investigation into eye drug licensing.

A report in the British Medical Journal raised concerns about why a £70 treatment called Avastin was scarcely used in the NHS for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration. The report included allegations that Novartis, a major drug company, attempted to derail clinical trials of a cheaper rival to its £740 eye treatment, Lucentis.

The charity objected to a trial of Avastin in 2010 led by Alex Foss, a consultant ophthalmologist at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. According to the BMJ investigation, Foss claimed that a representative of Novartis told him in 2009 that it "would do everything to stop the trial and challenge its ethics" and that "the challenge would not come from Novartis itself but from the RNIB".

Foss also claimed that the representative told him that Novartis could rely on the RNIB to lodge formal ethical objections and orchestrate a protest against it.

In a statement, the RNIB said that "to suggest a drug company could turn to RNIB for help to ‘scupper’ a trial is absurd. We cannot comment on an alleged conversation in a pub between two acquaintances who were not associated with the RNIB in any way."

It said that it challenged the clinical trial, led by Foss and still ongoing, because it "takes unacceptable risks with patients’ sight".

The charity said in the statement: "We do receive some funding from pharmaceutical companies which help us to fund specific projects to raise awareness of sight loss and eye health; this represents less than 0.3 per cent of RNIB’s total annual income. It is incorrect to suggest that these contributions have any impact whatsoever on our independence and impartiality, which are of utmost importance to us. We have strict policies in place to ensure these relationships are managed appropriately".

The charity told Third Sector that it had no plans to conduct an internal investigation.

Novartis told the BMJ: "Novartis does not tolerate unethical behaviour by its associates in any country and has a comprehensive compliance programme in place to help ensure that our associates comply with the company's code of conduct and all applicable laws."

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