New MS oral drug still not available

Tue, May 8, 2012, 01:00

A NEW oral drug to treat the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, which has been licensed and deemed cost-effective here, remains unavailable to sufferers.

The final stage in the HSE’s process before which it could be prescribed was “neither fair nor transparent”, a leading neurologist has said.

Prof Orla Hardiman, consultant neurologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said the MS drug Gilenya had been assessed and deemed cost-effective at the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) in St James’s Hospital, Dublin.

Any pharmacological company seeking to have a new drug reimbursed for patients under the Community Drugs Schemes must first have its cost-effectiveness assessed by the centre.

Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Prof Hardiman said the new drug was the first of a new generation of MS drugs that could be taken orally. “It looks like it’s going to be very effective.”

It would be prescribed to people already on injectable drugs for relapsing and remitting MS and for whom the drugs were not working effectively. Prof Hardiman said about 1,000 of the 6,000 or so MS sufferers here would benefit.

“It has been approved across Europe actually and we are one of the last countries where funding is a problem,” she said.

“There is a kind of a go-slow across the sector in terms of anything that might cost money.”

She said Gilenya would replace another drug so the extra cost would be “minimal”. There had to be a system that was “fair and transparent”.

“But the point at which drugs become available, when they reach the queue post the analysis, that’s not transparent . . . It’s not clear how the drug progresses from the top of the list into becoming available, and that’s a thing of grave concern to many of us in practice.”

There seemed to be another process, “whereby if you have an advocate, if you have a condition that generates a certain amount of sympathy through advocacy, that that’s the system to get the drug through”.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said there were a number of drugs, including for the treatment of MS, going through the process of approval. She said the assessment process was “well-established and has been in place for a number of years”.