The Scottish Medicines Consortium has caused uproar among asthma campaigners after it turned down approval for the use of Novartis’ Xolair on the NHS, stating that “the economic case has not been demonstrated.”

The decision comes just six months or so since the SMC gave the knockback to Xolair (omalizumab), an add-on therapy in a fortnightly injection for people with asthma that is severe, persistent and allergic developed with Genentech and Tanox, again citing the reason of price. The advisors to NHS Scotland said that the annual cost of the drug could be from £3,000 all the way up to £20,000.

The refusal has angered the charity Asthma UK whose chief executive Donna Covey noted that “for people whose asthma can not be controlled with existing drugs, Xolair offers the possibility of living free from the fearthat the next asthma attack will kill them.” She added that “this drug is the only hope they currently have, and to take it away from them on the grounds of cost is unjust and inhumane.”

Ms Covey went on to say that the treatment of asthma across the UK costs the NHS about £889 million a year, “to say nothing of the emotional cost to people with asthma and their families.” Caring for people after an asthma attack costs the NHS 3.5 times more than caring for those whose asthma is well-managed, she concluded. Whether the drug will be available in England and Wales depends on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which is due to announce its decision later this year.

…but Pfizer’s anti-smoking drug is given green light

However the SMC had much better news for Pfizer after it gave the thumbs-up to the company’s Champix (varenicline), the first non-nicotine medication specifically designed to help people give up smoking, which Pfizer starting rolling out in the UK in December.

Champix works by reducing the severity of the urge to smoke and alleviates many withdrawal symptoms from nicotine and if a person smokes a cigarette while receiving treatment, the medicine has the potential to diminish the sense of satisfaction associated with smoking. A decision by NICE on Champix is not expected until later in the year.