New MS wonder drug may be too costly to use


After a 20 year struggle overcoming scientific barriers and commercial sharp practice, scientists at Cambridge University today announce a breakthrough in the treatment of multiple sclerosis which could have a “transformative” effect on sufferers from the debilitating disease.

Two trials of alemtuzumab have shown that it is the most effective treatment yet discovered against the chronic condition  and could be suitable for two thirds of all new patients. Multiple sclerosis affects 100,000 people in the UK and millions worldwide.

But the company behind the breakthrough, Genzyme, is under a cloud after it denied access to the drug for existing patients pending the outcome of the trials, triggering a protest by leading neurologists to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, as revealed in The Independent.

One of the scientists who led the trials, published today in The Lancet, said yesterday that three of his own patients had been unable to complete treatment with the drug because of the company’s action.

Genzyme, part of the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, is also expected to raise the price of alemtuzumab  by up to 20 times when it applies for a licence next year, potentially putting it beyond reach for many patients.

The Lancet says in an editorial: “Multiple sclerosis runs a chronic and progressive course eventually disabling many patients. More effective, affordable, evidence-based treatment with long-term benefits are desperately needed. Finding promising treatments such as alemtuzumab is important. But so is keeping alemtuzumab accessible and affordable if its early success proves to be of enduring value.”

Alemtuzumab was developed as a treatment for leukaemia by scientists at Cambridge University in the 1970s but was later discovered to be effective in multiple scleroisis and the first patient to receive it was treated in 1991.

 Since then the drug has been owned by 13 different companies, some of whom bought it in order to close down  its development, according to Professor Alasdair Coles, a neurologist at the  University of Cambridge who led  one of the trials.

 “Some put a lot of effort into developing it, others were neutral or negative because they owned a competitive drug,” Professor Coles said.

Neurologists have used the drug for the last two decades “off label” – prescribing it on their own initiative even though it was not licensed for multiple sclerosis - in patients with aggressive disease, until earlier this year. Genzyme announced in the summer it was withdrawing the drug for off label use pending the outcome of the trials.

Professor Coles said: “Genzyme have been very supportive and put a lot of money into the trials. But I am disappointed they chose to withdraw it [for off label use]. I don’t see the point. I have personal knowledge of three patients who needed further treatment and we can’t give it to them. They are being given alternative treatments which are not as effective.” 

Today’s results show patients on alemtuzumab were nearly half as likely to relapse within two years compared to those on the current most effective treatment, interferon beta 1a. In the second trial of more severely affected patients they were a third less likely to relapse. The drug carries a risk of potentially serious side effects but these can be managed, the researchers said.

The drug is given in two courses a year apart and currently costs around £2,500 a patient but doctors expect the price will rise  15-20 times when it is licensed, based on previous experience. .

Professor Coles said: “Alemtuzumab is the most effective drug that has been seen to date.  It is expected to be licensed in the EU in June next year. Everything is in place except the price and that will determine its availability. I wish I could influence it but unfortunately I can’t.”

Professor Alastair Compston, from the University of Cambridge, principal investigator and Chair of the Steering Committee which oversaw the trials, said “Our research shows the transformative effect that alemtuzumab can have for people with MS.”

A spokesperson for Genzyme said the price of alemtuzumab would be established after it was licensed and would be subject to scrutiny by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). “We are committed as a company to engaging constructively in this process,” the spokesperson said.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

    Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

    £600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

    Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

    £20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

    Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering