Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Beta interferon may not be made widely available
A multiple sclerosis drug which could be banned on the NHS for being too expensive may actually be the most cost effective option in the long term, research shows.
A preliminary report by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) leaked to the BBC last month indicated that beta interferon was unlikely to be made widely available on the NHS.
The drug is expensive - about £10,000 per patient per year - and Nice concluded that money would be better spent on other forms of treatment for MS sufferers.
However, according to a report in the journal PharmacoEconomics published on Tuesday, long-term use of beta interferon may save money by slowing down the onset of the disease and cutting the costs associated with dealing with disability.
The report said: "Although the costs of beta interferon are high, the costs to society of caring for a patient disabled by MS are greater.
"If beta interferon can delay disease progression in the longer term, the economic impact would be substantial."
Misleading cost calculation
The authors, Dr Malcolm Kendrick and Dr Kian Johnson, from Macclesfield health economics analysts Interphase, say that previously the cost of beta interferon has been calculated on the assumption that its benefits do not last beyond the first two years.
This, they argue, is wrong, and that the overall cost of the drug is much less if its long-term impact is taken into consideration.
Biogen, which manufactures beta interferon, issued a statement saying: "The PharmacoEconomic study refutes the statements by Nice that the benefits of beta interferon do not justify the cost of treatment."
Users say beta interferon reduces the frequency and severity of the painful bouts.
A spokesman for the MS Society said: "Nice should be looking at all the evidence available on beta interferon.
"What they have acknowledged as being their provisional determination should be seriously reconsidered in light of all available evidence, and ideally, evidence from people with MS."
Nice chairman Sir Michael Rawlins has stressed that no final decision has been taken on beta interferon.
MS is incurable and causes the body's immune system to destroy a sheath
protecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis,
pain and tremors.