Alzheimer's boost as NICE approves drugs

GPs can access a far greater range of treatments for patients with Alzheimer's disease under final NICE guidance.

Patients in the early stages of the disease can now be treated with three drugs – donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine – previously only available for patients with moderate disease.

NICE also recommends the use of the drug memantine for severe disease and some patients with moderate disease who cannot tolerate acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.

The Alzheimer’s Society said the decision was ‘excellent news’ for patients.

Previous guidance from 2007 restricted access to drugs to only people in moderate stages of the disease, a decision that was strongly criticised by patient and professional groups.

NICE chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon said: ‘We are pleased to be able to extend the recommendations made in 2007 - clinical trials have continued to show the positive effects of these drugs and, in the case of memantine, have reduced the uncertainty about its clinical effectiveness.

‘We also have more information about the costs of living with and treating the disease, as it progresses through its mild, moderate and severe stages.’

Andrew Chidgey, head of policy and public affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘These drugs can make a real difference to the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people with Alzheimer’s.

'While they don’t work for everyone, this guidance means that for the first time, everyone diagnosed with this disease should be given the choice of finding out if the drugs are effective for them.’

NICE stressed that, because this is final, published guidance, the NHS has a legal obligation to fund the treatment within three months.

Mr Chidgey said: ‘It is now vital that all PCTs make the necessary changes to ensure these treatments are available. This will then hopefully encourage more people to go to their GP meaning diagnosis rates will improve and more people will have access to the care and support they so desperately need.’

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