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Novartis wins EU approval to sell Lucentis eye drug

Novartis AG, Europe's third-largest drugmaker, won European Union approval for Lucentis, a drug to treat a disease that's the leading cause of blindness for people over 50 years old.

Novartis will introduce Lucentis in Europe throughout this year and next, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said in a Hugin statement today. The medicine is already approved in the US, Switzerland and India. The drug was approved to treat a disease called wet age-related macular degeneration. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly in developed countries.

The „wet,” or more serious, form is caused by tiny leaks in blood vessels in the eye. The leaks damage the macula, the most sensitive part of the eye, destroying vision. „Until now, available therapies have only been able to slow the decline in vision, not to improve it,” the company said in the statement. Studies show that about 95% of patients treated with the drug maintain their vision and more than 68% of them gained some visual acuity, according to Novartis.

Lucentis is similar to Genentech Inc.'s Avastin colon-cancer treatment, which doctors have been using for patients with macular degeneration. Avastin isn't approved to treat the condition. Lucentis costs $1,950 a dose in the US Shares of Novartis rose 40 centimes or 0.6% to 72.2 Swiss francs at 9:03 a.m. in Zurich this morning. (Bloomberg)