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Pill offers hope to MS patients

A new pill will give hope to MS patients who have seen little success with other medication.

UK drug regulators have approved the use of fingolimod as a secondline treatment for patients who are not controlling their condition with injections of beta interferon or glatiraner acetate.

It is the first oral drug which has been made available to treat the condition and fills a gap between initial treatment and once-monthly infusions of a powerful antibody drug, natalisumab, which can have serious side-effects.

Draft guidance on fingolimod will be issued next month by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which assesses the cost effectiveness of new treatments.

Its recommendations will largely decide the extent to which the drug is made freely available to NHS patients in England.

Treating one patient with fingolimod for a year is estimated to cost £19,665, compared with £21,257 for natalisumab.

MS occurs when the body's own immune system destroys the fatty myelin that protects and insulates nerve fibres.

Loss of myelin disrupts nerve transmissions and can lead to symptoms ranging from mild tingling sensations to serious paralysis.

MS affects around 100,000 people in Britain, and relapses requiring hospitalisation cost the NHS more than £3,000 per episode.

Fingolimod, marketed as Gilenya, is said to halve relapse rates among patients with an active form of the disease.

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