August 22, 2007

Thousands of arthritis patients with crippling disabilities have been given new hope after winning the right to free treatment with a ‘smart’ drug.

The surprise decision to approve NHS funding of the antibody drug MabThera was hailed as ‘a triumph’ by one leading charity.

It comes less than three weeks after a health service watchdog issued draft guidance rejecting free prescriptions of another cutting-edge drug, Orencia, for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

The National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) ruled that MabThera was a cost-effective treatment for patients severely affected by the disease.

The final recommendation from Nice means doctors in England and Wales can now prescribe the drug to NHS patients who have not responded to other therapies.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful and sometimes crippling auto-immune disease that affects an estimated 400,000 people in the UK. It occurs when the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling and damage of cartilage and bone.

The total cost of RA in England alone, including health care and indirect costs such as lost working days, has been estimated at up to 1.2 billion a year.

MabThera, the brand name of the drug rituximab, made by Roche, is a synthetic antibody that selectively targets one of the key immune system cells involved in RA. It was originally introduced as a treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a lymphatic cancer.

MabThera’s relative low cost is the reason why it was approved. At 4,657 to treat one patient for a year, the drug is still almost half as expensive as other therapies.

MabThera will be available to NHS patients who fail to improve after first being given an anti-TNF drug. It will be prescribed in addition to methotrexate.

Source: The Press Association

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