Healthcare: At a Glance - NICE demands further Alzheimer's drugs proof

The battle to keep Alzheimer's drugs available via the NHS took a fresh twist last month. What happened?

NICE's provisional decision - that it does not believe they are cost-effective enough to be available on the NHS - still stands. But NICE has now called for further clinical evidence from the manufacturers of three treatments that combat the onset of Alzheimer's disease: Eisai/Pfizer (which produces Aricept), Novartis (Exelon) and Shire (Reminyl).

So there's still hope for manufacturers - and patient groups?

The Alzheimer's Society is cautious: the NICE appraisal committee that came up with the original ruling has not changed its position - it is the executive board that has stepped in to ask for more evidence.

Who is handling PR for the products?

The three pharma companies have been using in-house PROs plus Clew Communications (for Aricept), The Workhouse (Exelon) and GCI Healthcare (Reminyl). The Alzheimer's Society, the Royal Colleges of Psychiatry and Nursing and Age Concern recently formed an umbrella group called Action on Alzheimer's Drugs Alliance.

What media relations tactics has the umbrella group adopted?

In the main, using case studies to highlight the problems that it says will result from NICE's decision. For example, last week TV presenter Tania Bryer was in the Daily Mail talking about her father, who is an Alzheimer's sufferer.

Have drug sales been affected?

Aricept appears to have retained the support of GPs, with just eight per cent saying they have decreased its use and only one per cent stopping it altogether (PRWeek, 3 June).

Yet there seems to be gloom in the air?

The committee is meeting again in October to make a final decision. There is a suggestion from observers that, in calling for more clinical evidence now, NICE is dampening stakeholder disquiet before simply reaching the same conclusions.

Further information www.nice.org.uk.

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