The Scottish Medicines Consortium has approved the use of GlaxoSmithKline and Roche’s Bonviva (ibandronate) to treat women with post-menopausal osteoporosis under Scotland’s National Health Service.

Bonviva is the first once-monthly pill to be approved for any chronic disease and, as well as cutting the risk of fractures that can occur in women with the condition, it is hoped that its use will help alleviate the economic burden related to treating osteoporosis on the NHS, which is currently estimated to be around £1.7 billion ($2.9 billion) a year.

The SMC’s decision was based on strong clinical data supporting the drug, which show that it can cut the relative risk for vertebral fracture by as much as 62% compared to a placebo. What’s more, its once-a-month dosing regimen could offer a major advantage in terms of patient compliance and treatment outcome over rival drugs such as the current market leader, US drug major Merck & Co's $3.2 billion-a-year Fosamax (alendronate), which needs to be taken once a week. In comparison, Boniva sales were $13 million for GSK and $28 million for Roche in the first nine months of 2005.

“It is essential for patients to have access to all available drug treatments if we are to make progress in protecting women from this debilitating and life-threatening disease,” remarked Professor David Reid from the University of Aberdeen and Chairman of the National Osteoporosis Society Medical Board. “With ever-increasing numbers of patients being diagnosed with the disease, more action is needed to reduce the increasing burden of osteoporotic fracture on the NHS,” he added.