Financial Times; Feb 5, 2002
By NICHOLAS TIMMINS
Drug companies have cut the cost of treatments for multiple sclerosis by between 6 and 26 per cent to make them cost effective for the National Health Service.
Under the "risk-sharing" deal announced yesterday between the Department of Health and manufacturers, Schering, Teva, Biogen and Serono, up to 9,000 patients will now receive the controversial treatment.
If the drugs perform as the manufacturers say, the companies will receive the newly agreed price for them. If they do not, the payments will be reduced on a sliding scale over the 10-year programme.
The ground-breaking deal follows the ruling by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence that at the old price the treatments were not sufficiently cost-effective for the NHS.
Under yesterday's deal, however, Serono has cut the price of its two beta interferons by between 16 and 26 per cent. Biogen has reduced its price by 6 per cent and Teva by 12.4 per cent. Schering reduced the price of its beta interferon by 20 per cent last summer as part of a broader price restructuring. Most of the treatments will now cost between Pounds 5,800 and Pounds 7,500 a year.
The institute, which along with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, first suggested a deal between the government and the manufacturers, said it supported the package and "the adjustments in price appear appropriate". The treatment remains more expensive than others that the institute has backed, but within sight of other decisions.
Serono said it had cut its price because the deal required health authorities to fund the treatment, giving it confidence that patients would receive its product. Only about 2,000 patients in the UK are currently being treated.
Some critics see the solution as a political rather than medical one to the combined pressure on government of both MS patients and the pharmaceutical industry. But Alan Milburn, the health secretary, said that uncertainties about the effectiveness of treatment meant "beta interferon has a unique history which de-mands a unique solution".
Health authorities will have to pay the Pounds 50m-plus cost from existing allocations, leading to fears that other, more cost-effective treatments will be cut. The need to provide a baseline assessment of each patients means it will take up to 18 months for all eligible patients to be recruited.
The Association of British Neurologists said the scheme would place "a heavy demand" on health authorities and "must not compromise services to other NHS patients".
Up to 30,000 patients might need
to be assessed to identify the 9,000 to 10,000 expected to benefit, it
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