AT A GLANCE: BMS prepares for comms challenge over Orencia

What is this about? Orencia, a Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) drug aimed at sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis – a condition that causes swelling and damage to cartilage and bone around joints and can affect internal organs – has been rejected by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). BMS had high hopes for it pre-launch and trials have shown that it is effective in the long term.

Why was NICE against the drug then? On cost grounds. It would set the NHS back around £9,000 per person per year and NICE has decided that this outweighs the benefits. The Independent was among the newspapers that covered NICE’s decision.

Who handles PR for Orencia? The UK account is shared by Just PR, which handles media relations, and Axon Communications, which leads on stakeholder work. Chandler Chicco Agency holds the pan-European, US global accounts for the brand.

How has BMS responded to NICE? BMS said it was ‘surprised and disappointed’. Its line is that NICE is denying patients and clinicians access to an effective therapy. It has also cited a technical point – that NICE made its decision on ‘an incomplete or unbalanced evidence base’ and had in effect developed a new model to assess the drug. An appeal will be made, although Axon is not revealing how it will approach stakeholders following the ruling.

Any other points of attack? BMS also used the traditional ‘false economy’ defence, that by denying approval NICE was not taking into account the wider costs of treating the disease. It also pointed out that Orencia is an effective option for the sort of patient for whom treatment with other therapies is not working.

Is this at whom Orencia is mainly aimed? Yes, sufferers who have failed to respond to or failed to tolerate other ‘anti-TNF’ drugs – so called because they prevent a protein called tumour necrosis factor (TNF) from signalling the release of the substances that cause arthritis.

How have patient groups reacted? The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society has said it cannot understand NICE’s decision. The disease is chronic, very painful and progressive and affects just under one per cent of the UK adult population.

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