Cost watchdogs back Novartis' Xolair for big new market in chronic hives

England's cost-effectiveness watchdogs have changed their mind on Xolair. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) decided to back the Novartis ($NVS) asthma drug as a treatment for chronic hives, after sending the drugmaker back for more data last year.

Approved in the U.S. and Europe to treat hives last year, Xolair was up for NICE's yea or nay last fall. The agency asked Novartis for more info on Xolair's cost-effectiveness, saying "there were still questions to be answered" about the treatment.

Now, the agency is satisfied. NICE says it supports the monthly injection for chronic hives patients at least 12 years old, thanks to some new evidence submitted by the Swiss drugmaker. The list price of the drug is £3,073 for 24 weeks of treatment, but Novartis extended a confidential discount offer, NICE said.

Though England isn't a huge market by itself for the drug, NICE's decisions are closely watched in other countries evaluating meds for coverage. And the hives indication promises to be a big one for Xolair, analysts say. The new market could add $500 million to the drug's sales, which amounted to more than $600 million in 2013.

David Epstein

Dermatology is one field where Novartis is amping up its ambitions, too. The company started an awareness campaign late last year, enlisting patients with hives and psoriasis to talk about their conditions. And Novartis pharma chief David Epstein has said that skin treatments represent up to $3 billion in potential new revenue, between Xolair's new use and Cosentyx, a newly approved psoriasis med.

- see the appraisal from NICE (PDF)

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