Novartis Marrow Drug Fails to Win U.K. Agency Backing

Novartis AG’s $67,000-a-year drug to treat symptoms of a rare blood cancer failed to win the backing of the U.K.’s health-cost agency, which said the medicine’s benefit didn’t justify the expense.

Novartis’s economic model for Jakavi overstated the drug’s benefit relative to the cost, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said in an e-mailed statement today announcing the preliminary recommendation. The company, the public and health workers can make comments that will be considered by the London-based agency, known as NICE, next month before it updates the decision.

The institute, which advises the government-run National Health Service on which medicines provide value, found that drug relieved the symptoms of myelofibrosis. Jakavi costs about 43,200 pounds ($67,427) a year per patient, NICE said.

“It is disappointing not to be able to recommend this new treatment in our preliminary recommendations, but in order to do this we have to be sure that the treatment is both clinically and cost effective, because money has to be diverted from elsewhere in the health service to pay for it,” said Carole Longson, director of NICE’s Health Technology Evaluation Centre.

Myelofibrosis causes scar tissue to replace bone marrow, leading to blood-cell production, and subsequent swelling, in organs such as the liver and spleen, according to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Jakavi, which is also known as ruxolitinib, reduces the swelling of the spleen and eases symptoms such as itch and fatigue, NICE said.

Recommendation Disappoints

Novartis is disappointed with the recommendation, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

“We are encouraged that the committee considers ruxolitinib to be an innovative treatment and Novartis is committed to working alongside clinicians and patient groups in this area to address all queries raised by NICE,” said Panos Alexakos, oncology general manager, for Novartis U.K. & Ireland.

Novartis won approval last year to sell the drug in the European Union. The Basel, Switzerland-based company has marketing rights for Jakavi outside the U.S. under a partnership formed with Wilmington, Delaware-based Incyte Corp. in 2009.

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