According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) arthritis drug abatacept (Orencia) should not be used by the NHS for people with severe arthritis. Campaigners are protesting the decision saying that thousands suffering from an "aggressive" form of arthritis" will denied an ease from their condition.
Around 400,000 people in the UK have rheumatoid arthritis, of which 10 percent (40,000) have a severe form of the disease. They can be offered a class of drugs called anti-TNFs, but around 30 percent of people will not derive any benefit from those.
The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) says its figures show that people who would fail on anti-TNFs - around 12,000 people - could benefit from a drug such as abatacept. The drug's manufacturer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, have submitted evidence showing that around 3,585 patients in the UK would be eligible for treatment with the drug.
Says Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of NRAS: "This is extremely bad news for people living with severe rheumatoid arthritis in the UK and a potential step backwards in the management of the condition if this decision is not reversed.
"Denying patients the option of abatacept leaves some of them with the unacceptable choices of being put back on to treatments they have already failed on, palliative care, or taking large doses of steroids which have extremely unacceptable side-effects such as osteoporosis when given over the long term.
"We are talking about a relatively small number of patients who have a very aggressive and severe form of rheumatoid arthritis. They will have failed all other treatment options before they are recommended for abatacept", she adds.
Bosworth opines that only people who benefited from the drug would stay on it. "The guidance recommends denying our most severely ill rheumatoid arthritis sufferers one less vital step in their treatment pathway," she adds. "We simply cannot accept that individuals should be denied the chance of at least regaining some quality of life and condemning them to a life of pain and disability, which could be equally as expensive to the NHS."
The draft Nice guidance is now open to consultation, with final guidance expected at the end of the year.
A Nice spokeswoman said its independent advisory committee had reviewed the evidence on the clinical and cost-effectiveness of abatacept and taken into account views from patients and other groups.