25/06/2007

Court challenge over Alzheimer's drugs

A decision by the government's medicines watchdog to refuse to fund Alzheimer's drugs for patients in the early stages of the disease is being challenged in the High Court.

The action has been brought by two drugs companies - Easai and Pfizer - as well as the Alzheimer's Society.

The case centres on three drugs - donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) published guidance last November, which recommended that the drugs should only be prescribed to people in the moderate stages of the disease, because, at a cost of £2.50 per day, they were not cost effective.

Easai, Pfizer and the Alzheimer's Society are arguing that Nice's appraisal process was flawed and unfair.

Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society, told the BBC: "These treatments have benefited so many families already - where is the justice in Nice's decision to snatch them away?

"We have to fight Nice's fatally flawed process, which has failed to recognise the benefits these treatments have for carers."

However, Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice, told the BBC that their processes were "transparent and fair". He said: "The reality is that, for Alzheimer's disease, drugs are only part of the care that needs to be offered.

"Non-drug interventions have an important part to play and the evidence indicates that drugs are simply not effective for some patients."

The case, which is being heard before Mrs Justice Dobbs at the High Court in London, is expected to last four days.

(KMcA)

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