Drugs agency set for showdown on Alzheimer's ruling

Challenge to treatment restrictions
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The Independent Online

The government drug-rationing body, Nice, is girding itself for an unprecedented public backlash at a two-day appeal hearing this week over its decision to restrict the use of Alzheimer's drugs.

The assault, mounted by drugs companies, patient groups, physicians and carers, comes just a month after Nice finally caved into pressure to make the cancer drug Herceptin more widely available, ending a long campaign that dented its image.

Drugs groups including Pfizer, Eisai and Shire, as well as the Alzheimer's Society, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other groups, will give evidence on Thursday and Friday to a five-member appeal panel.

The Alzheimer's row marks a further deterioration in the already prickly relations between Nice and the industry. At issue is its findings on four different drugs. In its final appraisal last month, Nice recommended that only patients with moderate cases of Alzheimer's - not those with mild or severe forms - should be eligible for these treatments on the NHS. They cost £2.50 per day.

The finding caused uproar. "There is medical evidence from professionals who are challenging Nice's decision," said Labour MP Eric Illsley, who raised the issue during Prime Minister's Question Time last week. "This decision doesn't stack up."

This is the first time that Nice has allotted two days for an appeal hearing. It has rented space at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Regents Park as the number of people expected to attend could not be accommodated at its offices in Holborn, central London.

Appellants are opposing the decision on all three grounds open to them under the procedure: that Nice exceeded its power; that it didn't follow procedure; and that its findings were perverse. Eisai has also filed a Freedom of Information Act motion to obtain the model that Nice used to make its decision.

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