More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Watchdog to reject wider use of MS drug

Monday August 6, 12:03 PM
By Ben Hirschler, European Pharmaceuticals Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Healthcare watchdog NICE is to reject wider use of a costly multiple sclerosis drug which patient groups say can dramatically improve the lives of some sufferers, a source familiar with the situation has said.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) argues beta-interferon should not be used more widely in the state health service because -- at 7,000-10,000 pounds per patient a year -- it is not cost-effective.

A spokeswoman for the institute confirmed a new consultation document had been sent to patient groups, doctors and drugmakers at the end of last week, but declined to divulge its contents.

"This document is confidential to the these consultees and the institute is unable to make any further comment at this time," she said. The parties have until September 7 to submit their comments on the provisional verdict.

Under the NICE proposals, those patients in England and Wales already receiving beta-interferon would continue to do so but no new patients would receive it on the NHS, the source said.

NICE first came down against wider use of beta-interferon in June last year but embarked on a new review following appeals.

Britain's Multiple Sclerosis Society said it was "dismayed but not entirely surprised" at the leaked verdict.

"As the appraisal process has lurched erratically along, it has become obvious that the cost-effectiveness measures NICE has used are just too crude to assess treatments for a long-term and highly complex disease like MS," said society chief executive Peter Cardy.

NICE was ignoring the increasing weight of positive patient experience among those who have had the treatment, leaving thousands waiting on the sidelines, he said.


Beta interferon cannot cure MS, a debilitating disease which causes the body's immune system to destroy a sheath protecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis, pain and tremors.

But many neurologists believe it is effective in reducing the frequency of relapses, offering hope to some sufferers with the "relapsing-remitting" form of the disease.

Currently, less than three percent of Britain's 85,000 MS sufferers receive beta-interferon, compared with 12 percent in Italy, France and Germany, and even more in North America.

Beta-interferon is made by European firms Schering AG and Serono SA, and U.S. rival Biogen Inc.

NICE's stance on MS will likely reignite controversy over the role of the drugs watchdog, which critics argue is effectively an agent for rationing medicines. The body was set up two years ago to determine which treatments should be reimbursed on the NHS.

Drug firms complain it has become a "fourth hurdle" in getting their products to market by judging drugs that have already been approved by regulators for safety, efficacy and quality.

"The whole NICE process on beta-interferons is deeply is strange to us that a treatment that is regarded as effective and cost-effective in so many different countries is viewed so differently in the UK," said a spokesman for Swiss-based Serono.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited