Health watchdog makes U-turn over arthritis drug

A new arthritis drug is likely to be made available to NHS patients in England and Wales after a U-turn by experts, it was revealed today.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) produced draft guidance recommending the use of tocilizumab as a "last resort" treatment for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Earlier guidance published in March had rejected the drug because it was not considered cost-effective. The change of heart came after the health watchdog obtained new data from the medicine's manufacturer, Roche.

Tocilizumab, which is marketed as RoActemra, is already offered on the NHS in Scotland. The drug costs £10,000 per patient per year and works by targeting the immune system. It can help reduce inflammation of the joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis and prevent long-term damage.

The Nice guidance recommends offering tocilizumab to patients with moderate to severe symptoms who have failed to respond to other treatments.

The decision is still subject to appeal, but Neil Betteridge, the chief executive of charity Arthritis Care, described the move as an "important breakthrough".

Around 700,000 people in the UK suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease that attacks the joints.

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