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Major step forward for multiple sclerosis treatment

Major step forward for multiple sclerosis treatment

Funding for newer and more effective multiple sclerosis treatments has been approved by PHARMAC.

About 600 people currently receive funded MS treatments. PHARMAC estimates this could grow by about 400 over the next few years, with the change in criteria and improved choice of treatments.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurological condition which leads to increasing levels of disability. Pharmaceutical treatments are funded for a particular type of MS, called relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

As well as funding two new medicines fingolimod (Gilenya) and natalizumab (Tysabri), PHARMAC has also approved changes to the way MS treatments will be funded. From 1 November all treatments will be funded from first diagnosis.

Director of Operations Sarah Fitt says the changes are the most significant in more than 15 years, since MS treatments were first funded.

“Until now the beta interferons and glatiramer have been the only medicines funded for MS, and people have needed to show a level of disability before medicines were funded. Evidence shows natalizumab and fingolimod are more effective than the currently funded MS treatments, and that they are most effective when used early in disease progression.” she says.

“So this decision really is a major step forward in how this serious and progressive neurological condition is treated, and will lead to better pharmaceutical treatment for people with MS in New Zealand.”

Sarah Fitt says the previously available MS treatments – beta interferons and glatiramer – will continue to be funded and will also be available for people from first diagnosis, if they are unable to take the new treatments for clinical reasons.

The level of MS progression is measured using a scale of disability called EDSS. Treatments will be available for people with an EDSS score of 0-4.

Sarah Fitt says PHARMAC has taken extensive clinical advice from neurologists with expertise in treating MS. This helps ensure that treatments continue to be targeted to people with the greatest capacity to benefit.

People currently receiving funded treatments can choose to stay on their existing treatment, or change to the new treatments if they meet the funding entry criteria. They should talk to their doctors about this choice that is now available.

The changes, including new listings, take effect from 1 November 2014.

ENDS

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