New jab to fight severe asthma backed by NICE

GPs should refer patients with severe asthma to specialist care for treatment with omalizumab (Xolair), according to latest NICE guidance.

The NICE technology appraisal recommends the use of omalizumab for the treatment of severe persistent allergic asthma in adults and adolescents over the age of 12.

It is estimated that around 6,000 patients in the UK will be able to benefit from the drug, which is already available in Scotland.

Patients in England and Wales can expect the drug to become available within the next three months, with confirmation that the drug will be made available in Northern Ireland expected next month.

Omalizumab, which is given as a jab twice a month, should only be initiated if the patient has confirmation of IgE mediated allergy to a perennial allergen by clinical history and allergy skin testing.

GPs should only refer patients for the treatment if they have suffered two or more severe asthma attacks requiring hospital admission within the previous year, and a further two attacks which required treatment or monitoring in excess of the patient's usual regimen.

Treatment should be stopped if patients fail to show any adequate response after 16 weeks.

Glasgow GP Dr John Haughney, president of the International Primary Care Group, said: 'The drug can be life-transforming for asthmatic patients who have failed on treatments like oral steroids.

'Every practice is likely to have patients with severe asthma that will benefit from the drug.'

Dr Steve Holmes, chairman of the General Practice Airways Group and a GP in Somerset, said: 'It's important that GPs refer the patients that would benefit from the drug on to specialist centres to optimise its use.'

Neil Churchill, chief executive of the charity Asthma UK, described NICE's decision as a 'victory for people with severe allergic asthma'.

'Existing asthma treatments just do not work for around half a million people across the UK living with difficult to control asthma,' he said.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

NICE guidance

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