Big pharma joins forces to challenge Alzheimer's ruling

Rivals to hold strategy meeting
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The industry's relationship with the Government is becoming more tense. Representatives from Pfizer, Shire, Novartis, Lundbeck and Eisai, as well as from the Alzheimer's Society, are expected to discuss whether they will launch a unified appeal, rather than a barrage of individual claims, against the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), and if so, on what grounds.

In its final appraisal on a group of Alzheimer's treatments, Nice - the government-funded body that decides which drugs can be made available through the NHS - ruled late last month that the NHS should pay for treatments only for moderate cases of the disease. Patients with mild and severe symptoms will not be eligible.

Lundbeck, which sells the drug Ebixa, was particularly hard hit by the decision, as that treatment is targeted only at severe cases and will no longer be available. The other products, Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon - developed by Pfizer/Eisai, Shire and Novartis respectively - are prescribed for both mild and moderate cases, so the blow is not as heavy.

The Alzheimer's Society called the decision to prohibit the treatments that can slow the progression of the disease and which cost £2.50 per day "disgraceful" and "outrageous". Any appeals must be lodged by 15 June.

Under the appeals procedure, the companies can object on one of three grounds: that Nice overstepped its authority, that it acted unfairly or that its assessment was "perverse". The Alzheimer's Society has organised a picket in front of the Department of Health tomorrow.