July 22, 2011

The High Cost of MS Drugs

(Ivanhoe Newswire)--Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The disorder is more common in women than men and is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, but can occur at any age. MS is caused by nerve damage as a result of inflammation. Inflammation occurs with the body's immune cells attack the nervous system. MS is the most common neurological disability found in young adults. This disease causes muscle weakness, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, difficulty with coordination, balance, and walking, and blurred vision.

During the 1990's new drugs were released that modified the course of the disease and have been shown in large clinical studies to slow the progression of the disease while reducing relapses. These drugs, however, are also associated with side effects and high costs of as much as 30,000 dollars per year.  A recent study reveals the health gains that are associated with medications commonly used to treat MS, come at very high costs when compared to therapies that also address MS symptoms.

In this study, 844 individuals were analyzed with early stage MS and projected health care costs, and lost productivity over a ten year period. The study determined that while MS patients were using disease-modifying medications and experiencing modest health gains, the associated cost of these drugs is more than eight times higher than what is considered "reasonable." Katia Noyes, Ph.D., M.P.H, associate professor in the Department of Community and Preventative Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study was quoted saying, "While it is clear that disease-modifying drugs are beneficial to some MS patients, those gains come at a tremendous economic cost."

Noyes and her colleagues used a method called quality-adjusted life years (QALY) to evaluate the effects of these drugs and is a standard tool used to evaluate the disease. As a general rule among health policy experts, every intervention should be cost effective of 100,000 dollars or less to produce quality QALY. According to the study, drugs for MS cost more than 80,000 per QALY. The study also noted that in countries like Britain, Canada, and Germany the cost of these drugs are 67 percent less than in the U.S.

SOURCE: University of Rochester Medical Center, July 20, 2011