Campaigners' small victory in Alzheimer's drugs battle

August 17, 2007

Campaigners for Alzheimer's sufferers to have access to antidementia drugs on the NHS in the early stages of the disease have claimed a small victory in this drugs battle.

Campaigners for Alzheimer's sufferers to have access to antidementia drugs on the NHS in the early stages of the disease have claimed a small victory in this drugs battle.

 The High Court has ruled largely in favour of NICE in Eisai/Pfizer's challenge against its guidance recommending Alzheimer's disease drugs only for patients with moderate disease. The judge ordered that NICE should amend its guidance in relation to the drugs at the centre of the case - which she ruled was "discriminatory". NICE first ruled against the use of the acetyl cholinesterase inhibitors Aricept (donepezil), sold by Pfizer and Eisai, Novartis' Exelon (rivastigmine) and Shire's Reminyl (galantamine) on the NHS in March 2005, stating that although they were clinically effective, they were not cost effective.

 This faced much opposition and led to this decision being partly overturned in November last year, allowing patients with moderate disease access to the drugs, but an unsuccessful appeal to extend this to patients with mild forms of the disease pressed Eisai/Pfizer to pursue the first-ever judicial review against NICE.

 Alzheimer's Society chief executive Neil Hunt said after the ruling: "This judgment is vindication for the thousands of people who have campaigned for fair access to Alzheimer's drugs. "The court has ruled that the Nice guidance is discriminatory and must be changed. The Alzheimer's Society told Nice this time and again. We hav

e been proved right. Patients now have much fairer access to Alzheimer's drug treatments." The court sided with the Institute in five of the six grounds listed in the case, yet found that NICE had breached its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act by not adequately clarifying its guidance for people with learning difficulties or language limitations.

Currently 700 000 people in the UK have a form of dementia, and more than half have Alzheimer's disease. According to the Alzheimer's Society, almost a million people will be living with dementia in 20 years and this will rise to 1.7 million people by 2051.

www.alzheimers.org.uk