Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Arthritis drug RoActemra approved for Scots patients

An X-ray of hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis affects people's joints

A powerful arthritis drug, judged too expensive for patients in England and Wales, has been approved in Scotland.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has ruled that Tocilizumab was too costly for NHS patients south of the border.

However, the body's Scottish equivalent has recommended patients in Scotland be treated with the drug.

The treatment, marketed under the name RoActemra, targets an inflammatory signalling molecule to reduce symptoms.

Nice has indicated in its draft guidance that the treatment, which costs £9,000 per patient per year, is too expensive to justify its use on the NHS.

We strongly hope that Nice will revise its draft guidance to ensure that people with rheumatoid arthritis across the country are able to benefit from RoActemra
Ailsa Bosworth
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society

In December the organisation issued a statement saying its final decision could be swayed by sufficiently persuasive new evidence.

It challenged the drug's makers Roche to prove that its product really was cost-effective.

Meanwhile, the current position in England and Wales is that NHS funding bodies do not feel obliged to pay for Tocilizumab.

Sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis who do not respond to other therapies already have access to the drug in most of continental Europe.

The new guidance, by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), recommends Tocilizumab in combination with MTX for moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis when other treatment options have run out.

'Fantastic news'

Leading rheumatologist Professor John Isaacs, from the Institute of Cellular Medicine at the University of Newcastle, said: "This is fantastic news for people in Scotland who suffer from this disabling, life-long disease.

"However, it also highlights the disparities in accessing treatment between Scotland and the rest of the UK."

Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, which receives support from pharmaceutical companies including Roche, said: "The SMC's decision provides people with rheumatoid arthritis in Scotland who face a life of pain and potential disability another chance of combating their disease.

"We strongly hope that Nice will revise its draft guidance to ensure that people with rheumatoid arthritis across the country are able to benefit from RoActemra."

An estimated 646,000 people in the UK have rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease that attacks the joints.

A third of affected adults will have stopped working within two years of the disease taking hold and around half will be too disabled to work within 10 years.



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