NHS England has announced that premature babies are to be routinely offered a new treatment to prevent blindness.
Ranibizumab, the drug in question, “temporarily stops the action of a growth protein called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), which reduces or reverses the growth of the abnormal blood vessels”. It is to us used to potentially “save the eyesight” of babies born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
New national NHS guidance means that the new routine option is set to be made available across England, as an alternative to laser treatment for some forms of ROP. Ranibizumab is already widely used for adults with wet age-related macular degeneration, and has been found to be “effective compared with laser treatment in children”.
With all pre-term or low birth weight babies already screened for the condition, it is hoped that any ROP detected could be treated using ranibizumab within two or three days. It is estimated that around 31 percent of babies will require a second treatment within four months. It is administered using “a precise injection system that does not cause any scarring, which is particularly important in babies with ROP in the central, most sensitive part of their vision”.
Neil O’Brien, Health Minister, comments: “No baby should have to suffer avoidable sight loss, and parents should be confident that conditions like this in their children can be both detected and prevented at the earliest opportunity. That’s why this potentially life-changing treatment is being rolled out – to improve the futures and outcomes of babies and their families nationwide.”