April 26, 2011 / 4:43 PM / in 8 years

German cost agency changes tack on Alzheimer's drug

FRANKFURT, April 26 (Reuters) - Germany’s healthcare cost-effectiveness watchdog Iqwig said Alzheimer’s disease drug memantine provides a benefit, one and a half years after its initial rejection.

Iqwig, whose recommendations are widely followed by Germany’s medical insurers, said it changed its view after Merz, the German maker of memantine, provided additional data.

The move follows recommendations by Britain’s health costs agency in January to end restrictions on the use of a range of Alzheimer’s medicines, including memantine, sold in the UK as Ebixa by Lundbeck (LUN.CO). [ID:nLDE70H05V]

The only drugs currently available against the debilitating disease alleviate some symptoms but do not stop it from progressing.

This makes the assessment of the drugs’ benefits difficult, causing fierce debates among researchers, patient groups, drugmakers and healthcare insurers.

U.S. researchers said earlier this month that memantine had no effect in treating patients with the mild form of Alzheimer’s [ID:nN11105793]

Memantine is intended to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s but it is frequently used in mild Alzheimer’s patients “off-label” — for uses other than those approved by the FDA.

In September 2009, Germany’s Iqwig had said memantine should no longer be reimbursed by health insurers in Europe’s largest drug market.

Iqwig — much like Britain’s National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) — advises medical insurers whether certain drugs are worth reimbursing.

Unlisted Merz markets the pill under the brands Axura and Akatinol in Germany, accounting for about half of the group’s 2010 revenue of 673.5 million euros. In the United States, the drug is sold under the brand Namenda by Forest Laboratories FRX.N, generating sales of $1.2 billion last year. (Reporting by Frank Siebelt and Ludwig Burger; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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