New pill is good news for MS patients

The first pill for multiple sclerosis has been approved for use in the UK today and the Norfolk doctor who helped to trial the drug said it WAS 'a double dose of good news' for patients.

Fingolimod is the first oral treatment developed for the autoimmune disease.

Today it has been given the green light by UK drug regulators and licensed as a 'second line' treatment for patients who have failed on other medication.

Consultant neurologist Martin Lee is part of a team at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital which provides care for around 1,800 people with MS.

He been a lead trialist for fingolimod since 2004 and took part in the trial which helped to establish its licence.

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He said: 'This new tablet is very exciting and a double dose of good news for MS patients.

'Patients love it because it's a pill and we like it because it's a more effective pill - twice as effective as a standard therapy.

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'This is at least as significant as when injection therapies first came in 15 years ago.'

The drug can be given to patients whose condition is not being controlled by self-administered injections of beta interferon or glatiramer acetate.

It fills a gap between initial treatment and once-monthly infusions of a powerful antibody drug, natalisumab, that can have serious side effects.

Draft guidance on fingolimod will be issued next month by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which assesses the cost effectiveness of new treatments.

Its recommendations will largely decide the extent to which the drug is made freely available to NHS patients in England.

At the moment the drug will only be available on the NHS by indidivual funding requests, which are made by a consultant to the local primary care trust on the basis that there is some unusual or unique clinical factor and the case is exceptional.

PCTs consider these requests on a case-by-case basis, and Dr Lee said he hoped to be making a few applications for patients.

He said about a quarter of patients on injections have unpleasant side effects that are chronic and 40pc of them continue to have relapses despite the treatment.

Dr Lee, who is still helping to conduct some long-term research and has about 15 to 20 patients on the drug through the trials, said: 'The more relapses you have, the more quickly you become permanently disabled through the condition.

'The more you can stop them, the less likely it is a patient will need a wheelchair in 15 years' time.'

Treating one patient with fingolimod for a year is estimated to cost �19,665, compared with �21,257 for natalisumab.

MS occurs when the body's own immune system destroys the fatty myelin that protects and insulates nerve fibres.

Loss of myelin disrupts nerve transmissions and can lead to symptoms ranging from mild tingling sensations to serious paralysis.

MS affects around 100,000 people in Britain and relapses requiring hospitalisation cost the NHS more than �3,000 per episode.

Fingolimod, marketed as Gilenya, is said to halve relapse rates among patients with an active form of the disease.

Dr Doug Brown, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, said: 'The licensing of the first pill for MS is great news for people with the condition.

'There are only a handful of licensed drugs available to treat debilitating MS relapses and they're all taken by injection or infusion - so the availability of a daily pill comes as welcome relief for many and will increase patient choice.

'This treatment fills the gap for people who have failed on first line treatments, but are not eligible for infusion therapy and we look forward to seeing it made available to all those who could benefit from taking it.'

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