Friday June 23, 10:21 am Eastern Time
(UPDATE: adds comments from MS Society, background)
LONDON, June 23 (Reuters) - A British pharmaceutical watchdog said on Friday it was reviewing its consultation process after coming under attack for recommending that a multiple sclerosis drug should not be given free to sufferers.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) said it would review procedures for all technology appraisals, not just the process used to review the beta interferon treatment for MS which sparked controversy earlier this week.
Leaked documents showed NICE had formed a "provisional opinion" that beta interferon, which costs 10,000 pounds ($15,020) a year, should not be supplied to new MS patients on the state-run National Health Service. Those already receiving the drug would continue to do so.
As NICE announced its review the MS Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a charity, said the Institute had refused to meet with sufferers face to face.
In a letter to its Chief Executive Peter Cardy, provided to Reuters by the MS Society, NICE Chairman David Barnett wrote: "The Committee has taken a decision to invite patient advocates rather than individual patients to its meetings."
Cardy issued a statement saying it had been a "black week" for MS sufferers.
"First they hear NICE intends to propose beta interferon should not be funded on the NHS. Now they are told they can't have their say," he said.
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 painful bouts.
"This is the only treatment that affects the course of the disease rather than its symptoms," an MS Society spokesman said.
News of the NICE stance, first reported late on Tuesday, caused outrage among patient groups and hit shares in suppliers of the product.
Beta interferon is 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