Health watchdog facing Alzheimer's challengeThousands denied access to dementia drugs

17 November 2006

 

A walking stick held in someone's hands

The government's health watchdog is facing a legal challenge over its decision to deny Alzheimer's drugs to tens of thousands of patients.

Companies involved in the marketing of one of the drugs said they had no option but to seek a judicial review of how the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) reached its conclusions.

NICE rejected an appeal last month over its decision  that sufferers with early or late-stage Alzheimer's disease should not be given  Aricept (donepezil), Reminyl (galantamine) or Exelon (rivastigmine) on the NHS.

Another drug, Ebixa (memantine), is only to be used in clinical studies for people with moderately severe to severe Alzheimer's disease.

Unfair decsion

Eisai, the licence holder of Aricept, and Pfizer, its co-promotion partner, said they believed the decision-making process was ‘unfair’.

The companies added that many of the conclusions in final guidance from NICE ‘cannot be supported legally, or are irrational’.

They said they were calling on NICE to withdraw the current guidance and postpone issuing it to the NHS, which is scheduled for later this month.

It said Nice should ‘disclose a fully transparent working version of the calculations used in the cost-effectiveness model for independent evaluation and comment’.

Nationwide protests

Furthermore, it should develop new guidance ‘using both a more accurate cost effectiveness model and data’.

Campaigners have repeatedly argued patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's should also have access to the £2.50-per-day drugs.

The Alzheimer’s Society says that hundreds of its supporters will take to the streets today to protest against NICE’s decision.

More than 30 protests will take place across England and Wales, including rallies in London, Manchester, Southampton and Newcastle.

Cost cutting

Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘What sort of society have we become when the health of hundreds of thousands are sold to save just £2.50 a day?

‘This blatant cost cutting will rob people of priceless time early in the disease and later clinicians will have no choice but to use dangerous sedatives that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. This is victimisation of the most vulnerable in society and today is an opportunity for people to take a stand.’