BRITAIN'S pharmaceutical sector has been further unnerved by recommendations from the Government's drug review body, Nice, to block the use of multiple sclerosis treatment Beta-interferon within the NHS.
One insider said: "This represents another nail in the coffin for the future of the drugs industry in this country. If Nice actually manages to block Beta-interferon, it basically introduces another regulatory hurdle which drugs groups have to face to get a treatment registered and sold in this country."
Nice, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which tries to assess the value and cost of a drug to the NHS, yesterday admitted that it had judged that Beta-interferon, which can reduce the frequency of relapses for MS sufferers, should not be prescribed to new patients because it was too costly. A course costs on average £10,000 a year for each patient. It is used by about 8,500 sufferers in the UK.
The Nice decision raised questions yesterday among Britain's drug industry whether SmithKline Beecham, which is due to merge with its former rival Glaxo Wellcome this summer, will continue to spend its combined £1 billion research budget in the UK. SmithKline's diabetes treatment Avandia is also currently under review by Nice. A decision over the drug, which is tipped for blockbuster status, is not due until the end of August.
Avandia, which is currently seeking drug regulatory approval in this country, already has the thumbs-up in America where it has generated sales of £99m in the first three months of this year, from more than 3m prescriptions. While it is understood that a course of Avandia cost less than Beta-interferon, insiders feared that the Nice's decision may extend to its diabetes treatment.
The drug helps people suffering from type II diabetes to use the insulin that they already have in their body more efficently. Last October, Nice sparked fury from Glaxo Wellcome's chairman Sir Richard Sykes, after it refused to recommend the use of the drug group's flu treatment Relenza within the NHS in the months leading up to a flu epidemic.
A SmithKline Beecham spokesman would only say: "We are working closely with Nice over their guidance for our Avandia compound." A Nice spokesman confirmed: "The appraisal meeting for Avandia was on May 30. The next one is July 21. The final guidance should be at the end of August."