Fight goes on over MS drug rationing

9 Aug 01
Campaigners have vowed to fight on in their battle to widen multiple sclerosis sufferers' access to beta interferons after reports suggested their availability would be limited in the NHS.

10 August 2001

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has ruled out widespread use of beta interferons and the drug glatiramer for MS in a consultation document leaked to the press this week.

About 2,000 patients already receiving the drug should continue their treatment but it should not be prescribed to new patients, Nice concluded. The MS Society believes a further 8,000 sufferers could benefit from the drugs, which cost between £7,000 and £10,000 a year per patient.

The verdict follows a ruling by Nice last year that beta interferons were not cost-effective. However, the current reappraisal was ordered by an institute appeal panel last November following the submission of new evidence from manufacturers Biogen and Schering.

It was rumoured this week that the Department of Health was attempting to satisfy Nice's cost-effectiveness criteria by negotiating a price reduction with the manufacturers, possibly through a bulk purchase agreement.

Andrew Dillon, Nice's chief executive, said: 'These provisional conclusions are now the subject of consultation. The institute considers them to be robust.' Campaigners, professional organisations and manufacturers have until September 7 to submit their response to the consultation document.

Peter Cardy, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: 'We are dismayed but not entirely surprised. We shall continue to press for the verdict to be reversed.'

The measures of cost effectiveness used by the institute were 'too crude', he said. 'Nice is relying heavily on new techniques that are not yet up to the job, ignoring the increasing weight of positive patient experience among those who have the treatments while thousands more are forced to wait on the sidelines.'

He called on Health Secretary Alan Milburn to overrule the institute. 'How much longer must their agony go on as month by month more of them become too disabled to qualify? Surely it is time for the secretary of state to step in to resolve a situation that has made a shameful mockery of the government's pledge to end the lottery of care?'

Also this week Nice recommended that the drug topotecan be used to treat ovarian cancer. It said the drug would help some 1,500 women with advanced cancers at a cost of about £7m a year.


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