A change in policy by the health watchdog could see hundreds of thousands of Alzheimer’s sufferers in England and Wales get access to drugs which were previously denied to them.
Previous rulings by NICE decreed that only people in moderate stages of the disease were eligible for key medicines, meaning patients in the early stages were unable to get them.
However, new guidance now means Aricept (donepezil), Reminyl (galantamine) and Exelon (rivastigmine) will be available to moderate and mild sufferers, potentially benefiting hundreds of thousands of patients.
The ruling, which is subject to appeal, also recommends the use of Ebixa (memantine) for severe disease and for some patients with moderate disease. Previously, it was only on offer to patients as part of a clinical trial.
The drugs, which cost around £2.80 a day, do not offer a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But they have been shown to improve everyday functioning, including improving the ability to pay attention and plan.
Nice’s chief executive, Sir Andrew Dillon said: “Since we published our guidance in September 2007 clinical trials have continued to show the positive effects of these drugs and, in the case of memantine, have reduced the uncertainty about its clinical effectiveness.
“In addition, we now have more information about the costs of living with and treating this very distressing disease, as it progresses through its mild, moderate and severe stages.”