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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

    £21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

    £120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee