NHS pressures Roche to lower price of MS drug

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People in the UK with a rare form of multiple sclerosis will finally get access to a drug that can slow the disease’s progress after the National Health Service (NHS) bosses pressured its maker to lower the price, reports The Guardian. The National Institute for health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the drug, ocrelizumab, after negotiations between NHS England and Roche, which manufactures it under the name Ocrevus.

The MS Society hailed “a landmark moment” for the estimated 2,700 patients who will now be eligible to obtain it on the NHS. The report says the deal is significant because it is the first medication that has become available for those with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS).

It is the latest expensive drug that the NHS has been able to start offering after its discussions with Nice and pharmaceutical companies led to the latter dropping their price for a lengthening list of products.

Previous negotiations between NHS England and drug firms have led to patients getting access to a number of cancer drugs after lower prices meant they gained approval. That includes children in England being treated for the first time with Kymriah, a cancer immunotherapy treatment, when its manufacturer, Novartis, agreed to sell it to the NHS more cheaply than its £282,000 list price.

However, the report says, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is refusing to drop the price of Orkambi, a drug to treat cystic fibrosis, despite lengthy talks with NHS England and heavy criticism from MPs and patient groups. It is still seeking £105,000 per patient per year for Orkambi; NICE says it considers this far above what would be a cost-effective use of NHS resources.

Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said that some patients receiving ocrelizumab would benefit because “in clinical trials people saw an average drop of 25% in the risk of their disability getting worse. The treatment could also delay the need for a wheelchair by seven years”.

While 90,000 to 100,000 people in England are living with MS, about 650 a year in the UK are diagnosed with, and some 10,000-15,000 have, PPMS.

“This latest innovative deal is further proof that companies willing to work flexibly with the NHS can secure a constructive partnership that benefits both patients and taxpayers,” said Simon Stevens, NHS England’s CEO in the report. It is trying to cut its £18bn annual drugs bill by £300m by 2021.

NICE said: “Given the unmet clinical need of people with this form of MS, the cost-effectiveness estimates for ocrelizumab at the new lower price compared with best supportive care alone are in the range that Nice considers an acceptable use of NHS resources.”

While the agency does not negotiate with pharma firms over price, the report says several have reduced the price of products after NICE initially rejected them as too dear to be considered a good use of NHS funds. It first rejected ocrelizumab for that reason last September, but has now approved it after Roche agreed to supply it to the NHS at below its £19,160 list, or official, price.

“This is a revolutionary development for people with multiple sclerosis. This treatment has the power to slow down the condition so people can live longer, more independent and active lives,” said health minister Nicola Blackwood in the report.

The Guardian report

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