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Charity angry at NICE decision on Xolair

Young children in England denied ‘pioneering’ asthma drug available in Scotland

Louise Prime

Friday, 13 August 2010

Yesterday’s decision by the National Institute of health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to refuse to recommend omalizumab (Xolair) for 6-11-year-old children has been roundly criticised by Asthma UK.

The charity says the guidance – still at draft stage – creates a postcode lottery in denying young children with the most severe allergic access to a medicine that could “free them from crippling daily asthma symptoms”. The Scottish Medicines Consortium has approved omalizumab for children younger than 12 in Scotland, and NICE has approved it for older children and adults.

Omalizumab is licensed as add-on therapy for adults and children aged at least 6 years, who have severe persistent allergic asthma and meet other criteria. Asthma UK points out that the drug has fewer side effects than oral corticosteroids, whose side-effects include growth retardation, osteoporotic fractures, diabetes and cardiovascular events such as hypertension and heart failure.

NICE said in a statement that evidence considered by the Independent Appraisal Committee “demonstrates no proven reduction in hospitalisation rates, accident and emergency visits, unscheduled doctor visits or total emergency visits for children in this age group treated with omalizumab. The Committee found that omalizumab is only useful in reducing the rate of clinically significant exacerbations for children who had had three or more exacerbations per year.

“We are unable to recommend that NHS funds be diverted to a treatment with such high costs which only provides very limited benefits for patients.”

Asthma UK argues that children who have taken omalizumab in trials have been reported by their parents to have experienced dramatic improvements in both their asthma and their quality of life.

Dr Mike Thomas, the charity’s chief medical adviser, said: “Patients will once again be faced with a treatment postcode lottery depending on where they live in the UK.

“For parents of children with severe asthma aged 6-11 who have already trialled Xolair and had their lives transformed, this news will come as a massive blow. It’s vital that these children do not have the treatment withdrawn by PCTs as a result of the NICE decision, as this would be completely unjust.”

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