Sanofi's MS pill Aubagio wins final thumbs-up from U.K. cost-effectiveness watchdogs

Carole Longson, director of NICE's Health Technology Evaluation Centre

After a December flip-flop, the word from NICE on Sanofi's Aubagio is now final: The British cost watchdog has recommended the multiple sclerosis pill for use in Britain's National Health Service (NHS), tallying a victory for an MS franchise that has seen some recent ups and downs.

NICE gave Aubagio (teriflunomide) the thumbs-up Wednesday in final draft guidance, meaning the NHS will start funding the drug for eligible patients within the next three months. Carole Longson, director of NICE's Health Technology Evaluation Centre, cited Aubagio's oral delivery and side-effect profile as distinguishing features.

"Teriflunomide offers a new option for treating relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which could have a substantial impact on quality of life," she said in a statement.

NICE's original outlook on Aubagio wasn't quite so rosy. Back in September, it raised questions in its draft guidance concerning Aubagio's effectiveness as a first-line treatment in combination with beta interferons. The cost-effectiveness gatekeeper asked for comparisons of different drug cocktails, adding Aubagio to combos like Merck Serono's Rebif and Teva's ($TEVA) Copaxone and judging performance versus Rebif and Copaxone on their own.

On the second round, NICE apparently liked what it saw. An undisclosed price break from Sanofi on the £13,529-per-year med (about $22,100) can't have hurt, either; NICE has been known to sing a different tune after securing what it calls a "patient-access scheme" to make a drug more affordable. Novartis ($NVS) saw that firsthand with its own MS pill, Gilenya, when NICE changed its mind in 2012 after dismissing the drug about 7 months earlier on price grounds.

Backing from NICE will boost Sanofi's MS lineup, which the company has been counting on for revenue growth. And that's good news for the French drugmaker, especially because Lemtrada, an injectable treatment, has stumbled as of late. That drug received a December snub from NICE, followed by a denial from the FDA later that month.

- read the release

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