Let us have new MS treatment, plead sufferers
IRISH multiple sclerosis patients are calling for the urgent rollout of a new therapy that is available in many other European countries.
The treatment, which is said to be twice as effective as current conventional treatment, was given licence approval a year ago this week.
But Gilenya has not yet been included in the State's high-tech drugs payment scheme, which means it is not available free to people with medical cards or on the long-term illness scheme.
It is estimated that 7,000 Irish people have MS in Ireland and that 3,000 of these are currently receiving a treatment.
The disease is thought to be an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that is chronic, progressive and often disabling.
Typically, MS strikes between the ages of 20 and 50 and affects women twice as frequently as men.
Novartis received Irish licence approval on St Patrick's Day 2011.
It then officially requested that its product be placed on the State's high-tech drugs payment scheme.
However, Gilenya is still not reimbursed here despite being deemed cost-effective in September 2011.
The once-a-day oral therapy is twice as effective as current conventional treatment.
Consultant neurologist Professor Orla Hardiman, of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said that Gilenya "had a significant role to play in potentially significantly improving the health of patients who were suitable to receive the treatment".
She said that as the first oral therapy, it was a very attractive option for patients with relapsing remitting MS for whom the injectable therapies are not effective.
MS Ireland's Chief Executive, Ava Battles, said it was "not acceptable" that people with MS in Ireland had less choice of treatments capable of "modifying the progress of their illness" than people in other EU countries.
"We have written to the minister and the Department on this matter and anticipate it will be treated as a matter of urgency," she added.
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence in the UK has recommended that Gilenya is made available to patients in England and Wales.
This means those with the disease will now have access to the medication to prevent their disability from progressing.
And healthcare systems in the vast majority of EU countries have taken steps to make Gilenya available to their citizens including Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Greece, Spain, Norway, France, Belgium the Netherlands and Italy.