Multiple sclerosis sufferers will be able to receive treatment in the form of a pill, it has been confirmed.
Fingolimod, the first oral treatment for MS, has been approved for use by drug regulators in the UK.
In a move hailed as “great news” for patients, the drug has been licensed as a second line treatment for those who have failed to see sufficient improvements on other medication.
It can be used to control the condition in place of self-administered beta interferon or glatiramer acetate injections.
The drug fills the gap between initial treatment and once-monthly infusions of a powerful antibody drug, natalisumab, that can have serious side effects.
NICE, which assesses the cost effectiveness of new treatments, will issue draft guidance on fingolimod next month.
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 hospitalisation 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.
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