AT A GLANCE: NICE approves drug

How significant is the availability of this new drug?
It’s big news for the 3,000 people in England who suffer from rapidly evolving severe relapsing/remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). This is the first time that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has licensed a drug for that condition. It has just approved the use of Biogen Idec’s Tysabri.

Is this drug just available in England – what about Scotland?
Scotland’s NICE equivalent, the Scottish Medicines Consortium, originally rejected Tysabri last December. It is currently looking again at this decision, with a result expected in September.

NICE appears to have speeded up its decision-making process?
That’s right. Tysabri is one of the first batch of drugs to have gone through NICE’s single technology appraisal (STA) system – a fast-tracking of the normal approvals process for drugs deemed to be particularly needed by patients. This meant Tysabri was approved in a year. This is faster than the average time it takes NICE to analyse all the scientific evidence for a new drug.

Presumably patient groups are pleased that NICE has nodded through the drug.
The MS Society is very happy, having lobbied for this result. Its PR team, headed by communications director Matthew Trainer, has pledged to help any patients that have difficulty getting the drug prescribed by their doctor. The team plans to tip off local media and MPs if it discovers evidence that primary care trusts are failing to fund the drug.

And who has been handling the PR for Tysabri itself?
Huntsworth Health has been working on Tysabri for two years now. Marian Byrt is the account director.

What challenges has the team had to deal with?
There have been safety concerns associated with the drug. Some patients developed a rare, but potentially fatal brain condition while taking Tysabri. Its prescribing information carries warnings about this risk and the need to regularly monitor patients for any sign of the infection.

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