NICE U-turn over asthma drug omalizumab

NICE has reversed a decision not to fund an asthma drug described as 'life-transforming' by charities after the DH agreed a patient access scheme with the manufacturer.

NICE is set to recommend omalizumab for patients who have poorly controlled asthma on standard treatment, such as inhaled corticosteroids
NICE is set to recommend omalizumab for patients who have poorly controlled asthma on standard treatment, such as inhaled corticosteroids

Omalizumab (Xolair) is set to be made available for NHS patients as add-on treatment for severe, persistent allergic asthma in adults, adolescents and children following preliminary approval.

Charity Asthma UK described it as a 'real victory' for patients.

NICE approved the drug for use in adults in 2007, but outlined plans in November 2012 to advise against its use on the NHS for being 'not as clinically or cost-effective as was first thought'.

However, manufacturer Novartis has agreed a patient access scheme for the drug with the DH. Coupled with new analyses of its benefit to patients, NICE is set to approve its use in April.

It will be recommended for use in people aged six years and older as add-on therapy when their asthma remains poorly controlled despite standard therapy, such as inhaled corticosteroids.

NICE said new data and the patient access scheme had lowered the cost-effectiveness ratio to £23,200 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY).

The appraisal committee said this, added to unquantifiable health-related benefits to patients' lives, meant it would be a cost effective option for treating uncontrolled asthma condition.

'Massive improvement in quality of life'
Samantha Walker, Asthma UK's director of research and policy, said: 'Xolair is the only treatment that works for some people with severe allergic asthma who would otherwise be virtually housebound because of breathlessness and living in constant fear of the next asthma attack.

'While it’s not suitable for everyone, those who benefit from taking Xolair can see a massive improvement in their quality of life and many are able to reduce their dependence on other treatments which have harmful side effects.'

Professor Carole Longson, director of the health technology evaluation centre at NICE said: 'NICE is aware that severe, persistent allergic asthma can have a significant effect on a person’s life.

'We are therefore pleased to now be able to recommend omalizumab as an effective therapy for adults, adolescents and children with this condition in final draft guidance, with the discount agreed in the patient access scheme submitted by the manufacturer.'

Omalizumab, which is administered by injection every two or four weeks, works by preventing certain antibodies from attaching to allergens, which would otherwise trigger an allergic reaction. 

The drug costs between £1,665 and £26,640 (excluding VAT) per patient per year, depending on the dosage required, which is subject to a patients' body weight and antibody response.

The drug is already available in Scotland.

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