14th February 2003
The Department of Health has rejected a suggestion that its risk sharing scheme for MS disease-modifying drugs is a waste of money. Two researchers writing in the British Medical Journal said £50m spent on providing beta interferon and glatiramer acetate on the NHS could be better spent elsewhere.
In a second study, published in The Lancet, researchers suggested interferon beta helped patients in their first year of taking the drug. But they said results after two years were inconclusive.
A DoH spokesman said, "Debates around the effectiveness of beta-interferon have been going on for decades. The bottom line is that patients suffer while academics argue, and we are not prepared to see that continue.
"It was precisely to take into account the specific issues and long term uncertainties affecting the use of beta interferon that we developed the common-sense and innovative scheme that this report criticises.
"Under that scheme, if the drug benefits patients the NHS will pay for it. If the drug does not, the NHS will receive a refund from the manufacturer."
Mike O'Donovan, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said, "The best gauge of the value of the drugs is the life-changing benefit reported by the many people with MS using them. People must not be denied the only licensed drugs which have been shown to modify the progress of this devastating disease.
"The drugs were subjected to lengthy appraisal by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence which agreed they were clinically effective.
"We believe the risk-sharing scheme is an appropriate way to gain long-term knowledge of the drugs in use. It is also helping to develop services for people with MS across the country by, for example, increasing the numbers of MS specialist nurses.
"The Society fully supports the widest possible research into other
potential treatments and investment in better services for all people with
MS. This, however, must be additional, and not alternative to the available
© Copyright 2003, Multiple Sclerosis Society