AT A GLANCE: NICE gives Novartis Xolair comms boost

Is Xolair the asthma brand? Yes, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) last week recommended the Novartis product for use in patients with severe, persistent allergic asthma. The drug takes the form of a fortnightly injection for anyone over 12 years old.

Who handles its PR? Chandler Chicco Agency has the UK account, where consultant Nick James is team leader for Xolair. He reports to Sally Irvine, senior comms manager for speciality medicine at Novartis.

Will the comms strategy change? Expect more of the same in terms of media and professional relations, although an affirmative NICE decision is clearly a boost to any brand. CCA’s strategy has revolved around promoting Xolair to health professionals as the best treatment for those afflicted with this condition.

Anything else? The agency will continue working with patient groups and opinion leaders, putting the media in contact with them for comment and case studies. Some of the headlines last week were a PRO’s dream – notably The Daily Telegraph’s ‘Ground-breaking asthma jab free on NHS’.

And what are the benefits? The drug blocks the body’s excessive production of an antibody (called immunoglobulin E) that helps trigger the condition. But cost, rather than the science, is the key area on which PROs may concentrate: although a year’s course of Xolair could set the NHS back around £7,000 a year, treating patients in hospital can cost up to £10,000.

What do patient groups think? Asthma UK, which issued a release welcoming the NICE decision, is supportive. It points out that 80 per cent of the money spent on asthma is actually spent on the 20 per cent of people with the most severe asthma symptoms. Xolair should help some of the half a million UK sufferers for whom existing treatments do not work.

Wasn’t Xolair fast-tracked through approval? That’s right. It was one of 11 brands that NICE announced last year would be put through its Single Technology Appraisal process (PRWeek, 7 September 2006). At the time this was seen as an attempt by the Department of Health to project an image of NICE as a nimble player rather than a cumbersome bureaucracy. Incidentally, Xolair was approved for use in Scotland in October.

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