Feb 04, 2002
By Richard Woodman
LONDON, Reuters Health
Britain's Department of Health said on Monday it had agreed a ground-breaking scheme under which thousands of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients will receive the drugs beta-interferon and glatiramer acetate.
The programme, agreed with companies that make the expensive medicines, involves payment by results and could cost the state £50 million (US$70 million) a year.
Beta-interferon and glatiramer acetate are used in many countries to slow disease progression, but in Britain most patients have been denied the drugs following controversy over their long-term effectiveness and cost.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) drug's watchdog last month rejected company and patient appeals to allow the drugs to be funded by the National Health Service (NHS).
Under the scheme, the government will continue payments for the drugs if they prove effective. If not, payments to firms such as Germany's Schering AG, Switzerland's Serono SA, Biogen Inc. of the US and Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. will be reduced on a sliding scale.
MS Society acting chief executive, Ken Walker, said, "The Department is to be congratulated on acting imaginatively to end the nightmare which started with the post-code lottery and continued through two and a half years of NICE incompetence and intransigence, during which many people have become too disabled to qualify for the drugs."
Health Secretary Alan Milburn said: "Today we can go a long way towards ending the uncertainty that has affected thousands of people with MS. For years they have suffered from the legacy of postcode prescribing.
"Negotiations have produced this innovative scheme involving payment by results. Patients will be monitored to see whether the drugs are working for them. Prices will be reduced if patients don't benefit as anticipated.
"We are also introducing statutory obligations to ensure decisions by neurologists are backed up with funding so that these patients get the drugs they need."
In a joint statement, the Association of British Neurologists, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the MS Trust and the UK MS Specialist Nurses Association, said as many as 20,000 to 30,000 MS patients may need to be assessed to identify around 10,000 expected to be eligible for therapy.
Professor David Chadwick, of the Association of British Neurologists, warned that it could still take as long as 18 months to assess all 20,000 to 30,000 patients who may qualify for therapy.
The Health Department said eligible patients will be called up by specialist neurologists for assessment to confirm that they meet the criteria for therapy and are likely to benefit from using the drugs.
All patients meeting the criteria will be assessed to establish the extent of their disability and provide a baseline to monitor their progress.
"Groups of patients will be monitored over the lifetime of the scheme and costs to the NHS will be adjusted according to whether expected patient benefits are realised.
"Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts will be expected to fund these treatments out of their general allocations which are increasing in real terms by an average 7.2% next year. Funding treatments under the scheme is a statutory obligation," the department added.
MS is a disease that occurs when
the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers in the brain and
spine is slowly destroyed. This causes symptoms such as muscle weakness
and stiffness, balance and coordination problems, numbness and vision disturbances.
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