On second thought, NICE backs Sanofi's Multaq

The U.K.'s cost watchdog has done an about-face on the new Sanofi-Aventis heart drug Multaq. After turning down the drug as too expensive and no better than existing treatments, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has released draft guidance recommending the drug for use in some patients.

We don't have to tell you that the change of heart is good news for the atrial fibrillation treatment--and for Sanofi. The drug is widely seen as a lifeline for the French drugmaker, which soon will face generic competition for its megablockbuster blood thinner Plavix.

But Multaq hasn't gotten off to a roaring start on the sales side. And that's at least in part because regulators like NICE haven't embraced it. Just last week, news emerged that French officials weren't exactly thrilled with the new drug; they plan to set reimbursement for it at about 35 percent, French media reported.

In relenting, NICE could help turn the tide. Although the agency is recommending its use only as a second-line treatment, it did grant Multaq one clear advantage. "Whilst dronedarone has not been shown to be as effective as existing treatment options in controlling atrial fibrillation, and is more expensive," NICE chief Andrew Dillon says in a statement, "short term evidence suggests that it is associated with fewer side effects." Whether that will be enough to make Multaq into a blockbuster remains to be seen.

- see the release from Sanofi
- check out statement from NICE
- read the Reuters piece
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