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Second GW Pharmaceutical Setback Exposes U.K. Health System Flaws

Written by Peter McCusker

The U.K. medical body charged with determining which treatments can be accessed through the National Health Service (NHS) has dealt a second blow to GW Pharmaceuticals in a matter of days.

Last week, in its findings on the potential for U.K. medical cannabis, NICE  (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) ruled GW’s Multiple Sclerosis drug Sativex as not cost effective.

And it has now delivered the same verdict on its epilepsy drug Epidiolex – for the time being, at least.

Another U.K. Anti-Medical Cannabis Ruling

In its announcement NICE went to say that it would continue to work with GW on a number of issues. Epidiolex – comprising of CBD and the anti-seizure drug clobazam – was approved by the FDA last year and has prompted a major sales boost for GW in the U.S.

In the U.S it costs over $30,000 a year for, often young patients, suffering from Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut epilepsy – and it is this cost which is causing problems for the NHS. Needless to say NICE has come under fire for this latest anti-medical cannabis ruling.

Securing NHS Cannabis ‘Seems A Lost Cause’

Former U.K. Drugs Czar Prof David Nutt, now Head of the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, said that this decision, and last week’s ruling, mean ‘getting pure extracts of plant cannabis products into the NHS now seems a lost cause’.

In a press release NICE said it would work with GW on the issues it has raised. It said the duration of the clinical trials, at only only 14 weeks, meant the ‘longer-term effectiveness of cannabidiol with clobazam is uncertain’.

It also had concerns about the ‘economic models’ provided by GW saying it excluded some key cost impacts. Its ruling is open to consultation with a final decision due next month. In England, some 600 people with Dravet syndrome and around 4,000 people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome could benefit.

Ruling Exposes Flaw in U.K Health System

While some see the two decisions as further evidence of U.K. clinical bias against cannabis drugs, it all exposes one of the key flaws of the country’s socialised health care model. NICE generally funds treatments that cost less than £20,000 a year, but baulks at those costing over £30,000.

As well as taking into account the cost of the drug, its deliberations include equipment and time spent administering and managing the treatment. It  aims ‘to make decisions that will improve the health of the whole population’. In the U.S. over 90% of health insurance providers have agreed to list Epidiolex, and as such the U.K. system now seems to undermine the NHS’s founding principle of ‘providing universal care, according to need’.

Meindert Boysen, director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at NICE, accepted the evidence on Epidiolex but went on to say  ‘the committee was not convinced about the way the company had modelled the effect on people living longer or having a better quality of life’.

A spokesman for GW, a U.K. company listed on the NASDAQ, told the Telegraph: “We are working with NICE to address the questions raised in this draft guidance, with the aim of ensuring patients can access the medicine on the NHS once approved. We remain hopeful that NICE will recommend cannabidiol oral solution at the end of its appraisal process.”

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About the author

Peter McCusker

Peter McCusker is an experienced news and business editor, who believes it’s time to fully embrace the multiple, proven, medical benefits of the cannabis plant.