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Leading Israeli ophthalmologists have recommended to the Health Ministry that it include in next year's basket of health service a "revolutionary" new drug, Lucentis, which was approved this week by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the main cause of blindness in the middle-aged and elderly.
The drug, which costs about NIS 50,000 a year per patient, is "a real breakthrough," says Prof. Anat Loewenstein, head of the ophthalmology department of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, who was among those who recommended inclusion of the drug in the basket.
A major problem, however, is that Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri agreed last month that no new drugs would be added to the basket next year because the sum for next year was added to this year's allocation for this purpose.
"This is the most important thing in ophthalmology, and maybe in medicine, in the last few decades," Loewenstein told The Jerusalem Post. "It really is a breakthrough - the first time we can give patients back their sight."
An article on the Genentech company's drug, to be published in next month's New England Journal of Medicine, states that nearly 40% of AMD patients who took the drug improved their vision significantly during the course of a year. In most of the others, the condition of their eyes remained stable, even if the drug did not improve their vision.
There are some 150,000 AMD patients in Israel, 20,000 of whom have the "wet" type of the disease, which puts them at the highest risk for going blind. The disease causes degeneration of the center of the retina, resulting in a large black spot in the center of the field of vision.