Clitheroe woman in campaign to save asthma drug

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A DRUG, which many believe has transformed and improved the lives of asthma sufferers in the Ribble Valley, could be scrapped.

NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Health and Excellence, has recommended that Xolair, which is used to treat some people with severe allergic asthma, is not given out on the NHS anymore.

The move has been opposed by the charity Asthma UK and the body is campaigning for the recommendation to be changed.

To support is campaign to keep the drug available Asthma UK is using the example of a sufferer from Clitheroe who has said Xolair has “given me my life back”.

The 35-year-old woman was diagnosed with asthma after a chest infection when she was 21. Her asthma deteriorated very rapidly and her quality of life became very poor. She was so breathless that she could not walk or speak very well.

She lost her social life and her job and needed her family to care for her. Every 10 days she had asthma attacks that put her in hospital for days at a time and was prescribed almost 50 medicines. She started seeing a big difference in her asthma after about eight months of using Xolair.

Neil Churchill, chief executive of Asthma UK, said: “We are surprised and disappointed by this decision.

“Xolair is the only treatment that works for some people with severe asthma and its benefits can be life-changing.

“There is no doubt that without it, more people with asthma will suffer frequent life-threatening asthma attacks and disabling daily symptoms.

“We find it hard to understand why NICE wants to change its previous recommendation when there is no major new evidence to suggest that it is any less effective than was previously thought. We strongly urge Novartis, the company that manufactures the drug and NICE to work together to try to find a way to make this vital treatment affordable for the NHS to give to people who really need it.”

The institute’s recommendation was made public last week and it will make a final decision early next year.

NICE is responsible for deciding which treatments the NHS will routinely provide to patients based on an assessment of how cost effective they are. If NICE rejects a treatment it will not usually be available to patients, except in exceptional circumstances.

In 2007 NICE recommended Xolair for people aged 12 and above with severe allergic asthma who had been admitted to hospital at least twice in 12 months and fitted the right biological criteria for the treatment.

Two years later NICE decided that Xolair should not be recommended for children aged six to 11.

The guidance which is currently under consultation is a combined review of both of these previous recommendations.

The benefits of Xolair have also been extolled by Olympic Team GB swimmer Jo Jackson who said it had allowed her to resume her career and compete at world-class standard when she had given up on it after experiencing frequent painful asthma attacks during training that caused her ribs to pop out.