The Government’s drugs spending watchdog has decided that the first pill to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) is too costly to be prescribed on the NHS.The draft decision dashes the hopes of thousands of sufferers with the auto-immune disease who receive little benefit from current drugs.
There was enormous excitement among Britain’s 100,000 MS sufferers in January when EU drugs regulators gave fingolimod preliminary marketing approval.
Novartis, which markets fingolimod under the brand name Gilenya, subsequently applied for it to be prescribed on the NHS in situations where existing drugs do not work.
To receive these drugs, called interferon therapy, patients either have to self-inject every few days or go to hospital for supervised infusions.
A trial, published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that fingolimod halved the number of disabling relapses compared with interferon beta.
However, the National Institute of Curbing Expenditure (Nice) has decided that – at £20,000 a year – fingolimod “would not be a cost effective use of NHS resources”.
Prof Carole Longson from Nice said: “Unfortunately our independent committee wasn’t given sufficient evidence to show that fingolimod could reduce relapses considerably better than the other treatments currently being used.”
MS charities last night said the decision was “disappointing”.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, warned: “It will leave some people with no effective treatment option.”
He added: “Access to MS treatments in the UK is very poor – in fact people with MS would be better off living almost anywhere else in Europe, and this decision will only deepen that inequality.”
The German health service is already paying for 2,000 people to receive fingolimod for highly active relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).
Fingolimod is an immumosuppressant and, while it is well tolerated by most patients, it does have side effects in some.