January 18, 2011 / 12:04 AM / 8 years ago

UK cost agency to extend use of Alzheimer's drugs

* Policy change will allow wider use of Alzheimer’s drugs

* Pfizer, Eisai, Shire, Novartis drugs backed for mild cases

* Draft guidance should be finalised by March 2011

LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Britain’s health costs agency has confirmed a plan to end restrictions on the use by the National Health Service (NHS) of some Alzheimer’s medicines, a change that should allow hundreds of thousands of new patients to get the drugs from March.

Around 750,000 people in Britain suffer from some form of dementia and more than half have Alzheimer’s, according to the UK-based Alzheimer’s Society. It estimates there will be over a million people in Britain with dementia by 2025.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said on Tuesday it was relaxing previous restrictions on paid-for availability of three drugs — Aricept, made by Japan’s Eisai (4523.T) and Pfizer (PFE.N), Reminyl from Shire (SHP.L), and Novartis’s NOVN.VX Exelon.

The extension means the drugs can be prescribed and paid for by the taxpayer-funded NHS for mild as well as moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and extends earlier recommendations that they should only be for more severe cases.

NICE also extended it recommendation for Lundbeck’s (LUN.CO) Ebixa for severe disease and for some patients with moderate disease. Previously Ebixa’s use was limited to clinical trials.

“We are pleased to now be able to recommend these three drugs for both mild and moderate Alzheimer’s disease and another for moderate or severe Alzheimer’s,” NICE’s chief executive Andrew Dillon said in a statement.

The draft decision, first mooted in October last year, is subject to appeal but is highly likely to be adopted.

Final guidance is expected to be published in March 2011 and until then, the more restrictive recommendations made in 2007 will remain in place, NICE said.

Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon are known as anti-cholinesterase drugs. They cost around 2.80 pounds ($4.40) per person per day, and can help some Alzheimer’s patients but cannot cure them.

NICE’s original assessment of the drugs in 2007 found that their benefits were outweighed by their cost. But Dillon said more data from clinical trials in the past few years had “continued to show the positive effects of these drugs” and “reduced the uncertainty about their clinical effectiveness.”

Having more information about the costs of living with and treating Alzheimer’s had also influenced the decision to revise the guidance, he said.

An reporting from the global campaign group Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) last year said that worldwide costs of dementia are expected to reach $604 billion in 2010, more than one percent of global GDP output, and that those costs will soar as the number of sufferers triples by 2050. [ID:nLDE68I0IF] ($1=.6307 pounds) (Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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