The UK’s cost-effectiveness body has given patients with asthma a new treatment option after endorsing the use of Novartis’ Xolair as an add-on therapy on the National Health Service.

Specifically, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended Xolair (omalizumab), for patients aged 12 years and above with severe, persistent allergic asthma who are considered to have severe, unstable disease and have failed to respond adequately to standard therapy.

NICE insists that, in order for patients to be eligible for treatment they should have experienced either two or more severe exacerbations requiring hospital admission within the previous year, or three or more within the previous year, at least one of which required admission to hospital, and a further two which required special treatment/monitoring in an A&E unit.

2005 launch

Xolair first hit UK shores in 2005 and, according to Novartis, is the first drug to demonstrate its ability to stabilise severe allergic asthma in a “significant portion of patients” by going straight to the root of the problem.

It is a humanised monoclonal antibody that works by blocking the body’s reaction to inhaled particles – such as pollen and house-dust mite droppings - that trigger the symptoms of the condition, thereby helping to reduce the risk of sever exacerbations and the need for emergency treatment and improve the quality of life, the group said.

Around 5.2 million people in the UK suffer from asthma, of which 50% have allergic asthma and 20% severe, persistent asthma. Respiratory consultant Dr Robert Niven says that the availability of Xolair on the NHS offers a new hope for patients with poorly-controlled disease given that, previously, “clinicians were very limited in what they could do to control symptoms…other than prescribe high doses of conventional medications including oral steroids.”

But earlier this year the Scottish Medicines Consortium caused uproar among asthma campaigners after it rejected the use of Xolair on the country's NHS, stating that “the economic case has not been demonstrated.”