Novartis ( NVS) said Wednesday that it received European Union approval for Lucentis, a treatment for a major cause of vision loss among people over 50.

Lucentis is one of a handful of drugs for wet age-related macular degeneration, or wet AMD, in which a proliferation of blood vessels in the eye damages the part that governs central vision. Wet AMD is caused by the blood vessels leaking, and Lucentis thwarts the growth of these unwanted blood vessels.

The drug was developed by Novartis and Genentech ( DNA), which sells the drug in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration approved Lucentis in June.

Novartis has marketing rights for the rest of the world, and it will began selling Lucentis in most European countries this year and in 2008. The drug is available in Switzerland and India. Novartis expects to hear from regulators in Australia and Canada during the first half of this year.

In the U.S., Lucentis is off to a strong start with $380 million in sales during the second half of 2006. It has cut into sales of the other wet AMD drugs, Macugen from OSI Pharmaceuticals ( OSIP) and Pfizer ( PFE), and Visudyne from QLT ( QLTI) and Novartis.

Visudyne, the oldest of the wet AMD drugs, has been hit hard. Last year's sales of $354 million were 27% below those of 2005.

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