Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the UK are missing out on treatment with a ‘miracle drug’ for their disease because of lack of awareness among GPs and a fears over its potential cost.

Naltrexone 300mg, sold under the trade name Nalorex in the UK, is approved to help addicts break their addictions to drugs such as heroin and other opiate-based substances, but low doses of the medicine have been used across the Atlantic since the mid-80s for the successful treatment of various autoimmune diseases.

While not specifically licensed for the treatment of MS in the UK, doctors are allowed to prescribe low dose versions of the medicine if they think a patient will benefit from it, and some are already receiving treatment on this basis and have reportedly hailed its effects as miraculous.

Martindale Pharmaceutical Company manufactures 3mg and 4.5mg forms of naltrexone in the UK under a special license, under which the company is prohibited from advertising its product but is allowed to supply pharmacies on request by a GP for use on an ‘individual patient’ basis, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

In a survey by the LDN Research Trust, 79% of MS patients said their lives have been transformed by low dose naltrexone, and 60% claimed to feel with benefits of therapy within just seven days of embarking on a course of treatment.

But despite its availability and glowing patient testimonials, less than one in 50 GPs in the UK is prescribing this therapy for MS, causing unnecessary hardship for a large number of disease sufferers, said LDN Research Trust founder Linda Elsegood.

“LND is used widely in the US to treat MS and a number of other autoimmune diseases. The UK has a lot of catching up to do,” she noted.

Awareness and cost

According to Elsegood, the key reason for the low prescription rate is lack of awareness among GPs, but those that do know about the drug are frightened off by cost, or the lack of all-important Phase III data. Most are told a month’s course of low dose naltrexone carries a price tag of between £130 and £355, but this can be cut to £30 if enough orders are placed through one outlet, she argues. In addition, less than a quarter of the Primary Care Trust’s in the country will fund LDN on prescription, leaving patients to fund treatment themselves.

The Trust is currently holding its second annual international “LDN Aware” Conference in Birmingham, at which a range of users and health experts will campaign to raise the drug’s profile and secure funding for further clinical trials, in the hope that a growing number of patients will gain access to the drug in the UK.