UK watchdog backs Alexion's "very expensive" drug

LONDON, Sept 4 Wed Sep 3, 2014 7:01pm EDT

LONDON, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Britain's healthcare cost watchdog has recommended a drug to treat a rare blood disease from U.S. biotech group Alexion Pharmaceuticals, even though it said the medicine was "very expensive".

In March, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had sought more information from the company explaining the high price of Soliris.

The medicine is designed to treat two rare chronic genetic conditions that can damage organs including the kidneys, heart and brain. NICE said it would cost 340,200 pounds ($560,500) per adult patient in the first year and 327,600 pounds thereafter.

The draft guidance from NICE, which is now open to consultation, covers use of Soliris in a condition called atypical Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (aHUS) that causes severe inflammation of blood vessels.

"From the available evidence and from the testimony of clinicians and patients, families and carers, it is clear that eculizumab is a significant breakthrough in the management of aHUS," said NICE's chief executive Andrew Dillon. "The drug is, however, very expensive."

Funding Soliris - also known as eculizumab - for the around 200 patients in England it could benefit would cost an estimated 58 million pounds in the first year, rising to 82 million pounds a year in five years time, NICE added. ($1 = 0.6069 British Pounds) (Reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by Louise Heavens)

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