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The first pill to treat multiple sclerosis has been given the green light by UK drug regulators.
Fingolimod has been licensed as a “second line” treatment for patients who have not had any success with different medication.
The drug will be offered to patients whose condition is not controlled by injections of beta interferon or glatiramer acetate.
It fills a gap between initial treatment and once-monthly infusions of a powerful antibody drug, natalisumab, that can have serious side effects.
Draft guidance on fingolimod will be issued next month by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) which assesses the cost effectiveness of new treatments.
Its recommendations will largely decide the extent to which the drug is made freely available to NHS patients in England.
Treating one patient with fingolimod for a year is estimated to cost £19,665, compared with £21,257 for natalisumab.
MS occurs when the body’s own immune system destroys the fatty myelin that protects and insulates nerve fibres.
Loss of myelin disrupts nerve transmissions and can lead to symptoms ranging from mild tingling sensations to serious paralysis.
MS affects around 100,000 people in Britain, and relapses requiring treatment in hospital cost the NHS more than £3,000 per episode.
Fingolimod, marketed as Gilenya, is said to halve relapse rates among patients with an active form of the disease.
Copyright © Press Association 2011