Twenty thousand GPs have put their names on a petition to Downing Street against the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s recommendations for the treatment of osteoporosis, according to Pulse magazine.

In June, NICE sparked outcry from doctors and patient groups alike after it issued a Final Appraisal Document recommending the generic alendronate as the only first-line therapy for osteoporosis, and formal appeals against the proposals are due to be heard on October 22.

According to experts, alendronate causes extremely uncomfortable side effects - such as dyspepsia and swelling of the joints – in one quarter of women taking it. These patients often cease treatment as a result, leaving them in greater danger of suffering a fracture.

And although each individual primary care trust can decide which other drugs GPs can dish out for the condition, as generic alendronate is considerably cheaper than rivals on the market there is likely to more pressure to prescribe it than more expensive alternatives.

Aclasta launch

Just last week, Novartis launched its new once-yearly osteoporosis therapy Aclasta in the UK. Aside from its unique, patient-friendly dosing, the drug is also the only one approved in Europe and the USA to reduce the risk of fractures in areas of the body typically affected by osteoporosis, including the hip and spine.

But even with its benefits of improved compliance, bone protection and potential for reducing overall healthcare costs, the question remains whether PCTs will add the drug onto their treatment menus, given that its price tag is somewhat higher than the generics on the market.

However, speaking to PharmaTimes last week, a spokesperson for Novartis said the company was confident that NICE will adopt Aclasta, given that it should actually help save on costs related to complications of osteoporosis, such as hip fractures, which cost the National Health Service £20,000 each.

The combined costs of social and hospital care for patients with osteoporotic fractures has been reported as more than £1.8 billion per year in the UK, according to a recent national evaluation of standards of care for the condition, which advocates the disease’s inclusion on the Quality and Outcomes Framework incentive scheme for GPs to help boost the current standard of treatment.