New Zealand-based Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC) has approved the funding of new treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS), which are expected not only to reach more patients, but also be more effective in curtailing the disease’s progressive symptoms. The therapies currently funded are meant for the treatment of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common type of MS.
The new set of treatments approved by PHARMAC will reach about 400 more patients over the next few years. Until now, only approximately 600 people with MS in New Zealand received treatments funded by the governmental agency. With the new choice of treatments, PHARMAC is also updating its criteria for treating the disease and advising MS patients to consult their physicians to see if they meet the new criteria.
The changes in the agency’s criteria include the funding of two new drug treatments, fingolimod (Gilenya) and natalizumab (Tysabri), as well as alterations in the way that these treatments are funded. Patients’ therapies will begin to be funded from first diagnosis starting on November 1st, which Sarah Fitt, the director of operations for the agency, believes is the agency’s most significant change for treating MS patients in more than 15 years, when they first started funding MS treatments.
“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,” Fitt said. “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. 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.”
The therapies that are currently available for the treatment of MS, beta interferons and glatiramer, will still be funded, as explained by Fitt, and will be provided to patients who cannot be prescribed the new medications for clinical reasons. Patients currently being treated with funded therapies will be able to choose between the existing and the new treatments as well, so long as they meet the criteria and with the help of their physicians.
Patients eligible for the funded treatments must register a 0-4 score on EDSS, a disability scale used to measure the progression of the disease. PHARMAC is currently receiving advice from neurologists and experts in MS in order to make sure that the treatments are directed to the patients with greater ability to benefit from it, according to Fitt. Last August, it had already been announced that the agency was considering a proposal to fund five new treatments for MS, however, only Biogen‘s Tysabri and Novartis‘ Gilenya will be prescribed by the New Zealand community and public hospitals.