Court slams NICE drug tests for 'lack of transparency'

Healthcare PROs have welcomed a Court of Appeal decision criticising the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence's (NICE) drug approval process.

The court branded the process 'not transparent enough', with PROs hailing the verdict as a 'breakthrough for the industry'.

It ruled that the Government's value-for-money watchdog NICE had acted unfairly. NICE had refused to allow pharma firms Eisai and Pfizer full access to a computer model used to assess the cost-effectiveness of Alzheimer drug Aricept.

Edelman head of healthcare public affairs Kate Eden said any increase in transparency was good for the industry: 'Pharma will be able to look at the cost-effectiveness analysis for its drugs.'

Cohn & Wolfe's associate director of healthcare Vicky Kelham also said the outcome was positive.

'There have been numerous complaints that since NICE was set up it hasn't been transparent enough. As part of the submission process, the pharma industry has to be transparent and disclose all relevant information and data that will support a review by NICE. For NICE not to have to abide by the same principles in justifying its decisions has been unhelpful.'

Kelham added that healthcare PROs need to understand how decisions are made and on what information they are based. 'The fact that NICE will now have to give the firms involved [Pfizer and Eisai] access to its systems means that they are no longer at a disadvantage in testing and challenging its assumptions.'

However, Eden also warned that the decision may reduce the speed at which drugs make it to patients. 'The extra step in the approval process may lengthen the process and mean that it would take a drug even longer to get to patients, which may be a concern for other patient groups.'

The ruling is part of an ongoing battle between the pharma industry and the government rationing body about how NICE evaluates a drug's cost-effectiveness. It follows a report by the Health Select Committee, published in January, that contained recommendations aimed at improving NICE's drug approval procedures.

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