A powerful arthritis drug that could be barred from most NHS patients for being too expensive has been given the go-ahead in Scotland.
Tocilizumab was provisionally judged too expensive by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which assesses the cost effectiveness of treatments in England and Wales.
But the Scottish equivalent of the body recommended free treatment with the drug.
It has been found to improve remission rates six-fold when used in combination with the standard anti-inflammatory drug methotrexate (MTX).
The guidance in Scotland recommends tocilizumab in combination with MTX for moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis when other treatment options run out.
NICE indicated in draft guidance that the drug, which costs £9,000 per patient per year, is too expensive to justify use on the NHS. But in December it said its final decision could be swayed by sufficiently persuasive new evidence.
In England and Wales the NHS funding bodies do not feel obliged to pay for tocilizumab. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers not responding to other therapies have access to the drug on most of continental Europe.
Tocilizumab, marketed as RoActemra, targets the inflammatory signalling molecule interleukin-6 to reduce painful symptoms.
Copyright Press Association 2010