NICE opens up early Alzheimer's treatment

Sometimes the U.K. cost-effectiveness watchdog changes its mind, much to the joy of drugmakers (not to mention patients). The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has reversed itself on early Alzheimer's treatment, opening the door for broader use of drugs from Eisai, Shire and Novartis.

Previously, the agency had limited use of Aricept, marketed by Eisai and Pfizer, as well as Shire's Reminyl and Novartis' Exelon, saying the National Health Service should only pay for the drugs in patients with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's disease. That decision spawned much protest, as so many of NICE's limitations do.

But in this case at least, the agency decided to let doctors prescribe the drugs for patients with milder forms of the disease. Alzheimer's Society expert Clive Ballard says in a statement that the availability of treatment may prompt doctors to diagnose Alzheimer's earlier and patients to see their doctors if they're worried about cognitive decline. "[D]octors will no longer have to watch people deteriorate without being able to treat them," Ballard says.

Explaining its about-face, NICE says that new research has helped prove that the drugs, known as anti-cholinergics, are helpful to early Alzheimer's patients. "Our increased confidence in the benefits and costs associated with the use of the three drugs for treating mild and moderate stages of the disease has enabled us to make a positive recommendation," NICE chief Andrew Dillon says in a statement.

The decision could make the drugs available to hundreds of thousands of Alzheimer's patients, the society estimates. But the drugmakers won't reap as much benefit from the ruling as they would have a couple of years ago; Aricept, in particular, is threatened with generic competition as soon as November.

- read the statement from NICE
- find the Alzheimer's Society release
- get the Telegraph article
- see the news from Reuters
- check out the Wall Street Journal story

ALSO: Teva Pharmaceutical Industries can challenge patents on Eisai Co.'s Alzheimer's treatment Aricept, a U.S. appeals court ruled, giving the company a shot at beating Ranbaxy Laboratories to market with a generic version of the drug. Report