Azara Blog: Alzheimer's drug case goes to the High Court

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Date published: 2007/06/25

The BBC says:

A decision by the government's health watchdog to deny Alzheimer's drugs to patients with mild-stage disease is being challenged at the High Court.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) ruled the medicines - donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine - were not cost effective.

But critics argue the decision process was flawed and did not take into account the benefits to carers.

It is the first time a judicial review has been sought on a NICE decision.

Drugs company Eisai brought the case to the High Court with support from fellow drugs firm Pfizer and the Alzheimer's Society.
NICE guidance in 2001 recommended the drugs - which can make it easier to carry out everyday tasks - should be used as standard.

But guidance published in November 2006, after months of appeals, stated that the drugs should only be prescribed to people with moderate-stage disease.

NICE's analysis of the evidence showed the drugs, which cost about £2.50 a day, did not make enough of a difference to recommend them for all patients and were not good value for money.

Campaigners are angry that people suffering from Alzheimer's have to get worse before they are eligible for treatment.

They argue that NICE did not properly evaluate the impact of the drugs on the quality of life of carers and that the figures on the cost of long-term care used in their analysis were too low.

It is ridiculous that health decisions are reviewed by courts rather than by experts. If the courts rule that the government has to fund these drugs then perhaps the courts will also rule what treatments the NHS should cut in compensation (it is a zero-sum game, after all). Who should suffer so that the Alzheimer's sufferers do not? (We have already had this problem with breast cancer sufferers. They played the media brilliantly so that the government caved into them, and the media of course ignored the issue of who was going to pay for it all.)

And it is ridiculous that drug companies with a blatant self-interest in the outcome are using a horrid disease as a way of having the country subsidise their existence. If the drug companies feel so much empathy towards Alzheimer's sufferers then they should cut their arbitrary price for the drugs and hence make them more affordable.

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