10:30am Saturday 17th March 2012
By Amanda Williams
A revoluntionary pill for MS sufferers that was trialled in Oxford was yesterday given the go-ahead by a government watchdog.
Now Matt Bateman, who says the drug has transformed his life, has urged county health bosses to avoid a ‘postcode lottery’ and guarantee it will be funded.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) issued new draft guidance recommending fingolimod on the NHS for some patients with a form of MS.
MS affects about 900 Oxfordshire people and is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the brain and spinal cord.
Every time a patient suffers a ‘relapse’, it means their immune system is being attacked – a sign the disease is progressing towards disability. Most MS sufferers have to undergo twice-weekly injections to stop this progression of the disease.
But the fingolimod pill, which has been trialled at the John Radcliffe, would be a solution for patients who were not seeing any benefit from the injections.
Mr Bateman, 36, from Blackbird Leys in Oxford, started taking the drug in May 2009 as part of a clinical trial in the city.
He discovered he had MS after visiting doctors for what he thought was a trapped nerve in his right side.
But his life changed after he took the pill, and the progression of the disease all but stopped.
He said: “This is great news at long last.
“I’m on a trial which lasts until the end of the year.
“The next step now will be to make sure the drug is approved for funding locally.
“We don’t want to see another postcode lottery in the county.”
Fingolimod had previously been turned down by Nice, as it was not deemed “cost effective”.
The drug costs almost £20,000 per patient per year but is expected to be cheaper under a discount scheme.
Nice announced the initial U-turn yesterday ahead of a final decision in April.
Prof Carole Longson, director of the health technology evaluation centre at Nice, said: “Following new information provided during the consultation, the analyses show that for these people, treatment with fingolimod will be a cost-effective option for the NHS in this group of people with multiple sclerosis, if (manufacturer) Novartis provides the drug at a discounted price, as proposed in its patient access scheme.”
NHS Oxfordshire said it would not routinely prescribe the drug until the final decision was made in April.
County health chiefs have found themselves facing controversy over the so-called ‘postcode lottery’ several times in the past.
There are regional variations in what local primary care trusts, the authorities which pay for healthcare, prioritise for funding.
This means that while patients in one area can automatically be approved for free treatment, those just miles away in a neighbouring county, can be refused.
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