Tuesday July 11, 11:34 am Eastern Time
LONDON, July 11 (Reuters) - Multiple sclerosis (MS) drug beta interferon, which Britain's National Health Service says is too expensive, may work out cheaper than patient care in the long term, new research shows.
According to a report in the journal PharmacoEconomics published on Tuesday, long-term use of beta interferon may slow down the onset of the disease and consequent degree of patient disability and associated care costs.
"Although the costs of beta interferon are high, the costs to society of caring for a patient disabled by MS are greater," the report said.
"If beta interferon can delay disease progression in the longer term, the economic impact would be substantial," it added.
The drug, produced by Biogen Inc (NasdaqNM:BGEN - news) and Chiron Corp (NasdaqNM:CHIR - news) of the United States, Germany's Schering (quote from Yahoo! UK & Ireland: SCHG.F) and Switzerland's Serono SA , has been widely endorsed by Britain's drug industry and sufferers.
But it is at the centre of controversy in Britain, where the nation's pharmaceutical watchdog NICE has said the drug -- which costs 10,000 pounds ($15,140) a year per patient -- should not be supplied free to new MS patients by the NHS.
Patients' groups were outraged by NICE's argument that the drug's "modest clinical benefit appears to be outweighed by the very high cost".
"The PharmacoEconomic study refutes the statements by NICE... that the benefits of beta interferon do not justify the cost of treatment," Biogen said in a statement.
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.
Users say beta interferon reduces the frequency and severity of the painful bouts.
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