2 New Treatments for Relapsing-Remitting MS Now Available in New Zealand

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by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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The Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand (MSNZ) announced that PHARMAC has agreed with its request to finance two novel first-in-line therapies for relapsing-remitting forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), making them accessible to patients there.

PHARMAC recently agreed to fund the two treatments, teriflunomide (Aubagio), supplied by Sanofi-Aventis NZ, and dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera), provided by Biogen NZ. Both medicines will be available in the community and District Health Board (DHB) Hospitals, with the same restrictions as the MS drugs fingolimod (Gilenya) and natalizumab (Tysabri), which PHARMAC granted access to in 2014. PHARMAC is the government agency responsible for deciding which pharmaceuticals will be publicly fund in New Zealand.

“There are approximately 4,000 people with multiple sclerosis in New Zealand,” said MSNZ spokesman, Neil Woodhams, in a news release. “This announcement is a really positive step forward for them.”

Added Woodhams: “This time last year PHARMAC extended the access criteria for Tysabri and Gilenya, and we are seeing how that change is making a difference in people’s lives. We know from figures that PHARMAC has provided that 471 people with MS have been approved to receive Tysabri or Gilenya within the first 12 months of funding. We hope that the impact of access to Tecfidera and Aubagio will be just as positive.”

MSNZ says it is concerned, however, about the criteria established for treatment, a point it addressed in its submission to PHARMAC in October. “We are still concerned the overall entry and exit criteria are too tight,” said Woodhams. “There needs to be some flexibility. New Zealand is the only country to have such stringent exit criteria under the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS).”

Specifically, “Some people diagnosed with relapsing/remitting MS unfortunately experience a high number of relapses that produce disability in the long or medium term. In some instances a person may have attacks of the spinal cord that leave them with permanent disability in their movement. As per the EDSS scale, this will put them over point that they can enter into treatment. However their poor recovery does not mean that they have a more progressive form of MS but are still considered relapsing/remitting,” he said, adding, “[w]e remain concerned for patients who have had their first demyelinating episode (CIS) with proven MRI activity and demonstrable symptoms of MS, and who would benefit from early treatment, still have to wait for a significant relapse.”

MSNZ is asking for reassurance from PHARMAC that its concerns will be considered fairly. “PHARMAC have advised that applications can be made if circumstances are outside the criteria; however, we would like more reassurance these will be fully considered,” Woodhams concluded.

Details on the decision and its criteria are available through this link: “Notification on Decisions relating to Multiple Sclerosis Treatments – 4 December 2015.”

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