Ocrevus may have taken the worldwide multiple sclerosis community by storm but it seems set for a rocky ride in the United Kingdom. It’s quite possible that it will not be available through the country’s National Health Service (NHS).
Although the drug1, known by the non-brand name, ocrelizumab, was licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in January as an MS treatment, that is not the end of the story. It was licensed to treat both people with relapsing and early primary progressive MS.
However, before a treatment is allowed to be available through the NHS in England and Wales2, it has to be evaluated by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Disappointingly, it has provisionally decided NOT to recommend ocrelizumab for people with relapsing MS on the NHS.
Fortunately, this is not its final decision. You can let them know what you think through the NICE website before Wednesday April 25, so there is no time to lose. NICE is due to reach its final decision in May.
Should we blame pharmaceutical company Roche for the mess? Well, maybe. NICE has said the evidence submitted by Roche is not enough to show it’s more clinically and cost effective than other treatment options for relapsing MS.
Turn decision around
MS Society director of external affairs Genevieve Edwards said: “Naturally we’re very disappointed by the NICE guidance. But the decision isn’t set in stone, and we’ll be speaking to NICE and the drug manufacturers to make sure we get the right outcome for everyone living with MS.
“Over 100,000 people have MS in the UK, and we’re working hard to make sure they can all access more and better treatments. We’ve been here before and turned it around.”
The review of ocrelizumab as a treatment for primary progressive MS is taking place separately and is not affected by any decision regarding the relapsing form of the disease.
Edwards said: “For us and thousands of others, ocrelizumab also offers immense hope in progressive MS. We’re yet to know what NICE recommends here, and will be continuing our efforts to make sure everyone who could benefit can access the drug. There are still people with MS who don’t have any options for treatment, and addressing this is our absolute priority.”
Anyone who is already receiving Ocrevus through the NHS, should not panic. NICE said its recommendation is not intended to affect treatment that was started before this guidance was published.
“People having treatment outside this recommendation may continue without change to the funding arrangements in place for them before this guidance was published, until they and their NHS clinician consider it appropriate to stop,” it said.
1 Ocrelizumab is an intravenous infusion taken every six months. It was licensed to treat both people with relapsing and early primary progressive MS by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in January this year.
2 The Department of Health in Northern Ireland is expected to make a decision on ocrelizumab for relapsing MS soon. Its decisions are usually based on those made by NICE. The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) is currently carrying out a separate appraisal for people in Scotland.
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.
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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.