Children with severe asthma are to be given a potentially life-saving drug on the NHS after a U-turn by a health watchdog, according to the mailonline.com.
The move means youngsters aged six to 11 will be able to benefit from Xolair injections for the first time.
Those on a regular course of jabs are half as likely to have an asthma attack, and also half as likely to need hospital treatment if they do have an attack.
The drug has been used by around 2,000 severely affected patients since 2007, when it was approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which rations drugs for the NHS.
But NICE claimed in November 2012 that Xolair was less affordable and effective than it had thought and announced plans to stop giving the drug to new patients. This provoked an outcry among doctors and patient groups, with Asthma UK campaigning against the proposal. The charity said the drug had led to life-changing improvements by reducing patients’ asthma attacks.
In July NICE confirmed it had reversed its decision and the drug would also be available for children aged six to 11 for the first time.
The NHS must fund the drug for eligible patients out of the 14,000 Britons with severe allergic asthma within three months. Xolair is already approved for children and adults in Scotland, and Wales is likely to follow England’s decision.
Around 1,000 sufferers die each year, and of these deaths 900 are preventable. The healthcare cost of asthma exceeds £1billion a year, with half the bill spent on the one in ten patients with the worst symptoms. Before Xolair came into use, sufferers of severe asthma had to rely on high doses of powerful steroids that often failed to control symptoms and had serious, long-term side effects.
The cost of the drug, which is made by Novartis and is also known as omalizumab, ranges from £1,665 to £26,640 a year depending on dose and frequency, with the average at around £8,000 annually. Patients need long-term treatment of between one and four injections every two to four weeks.
Dr Samantha Walker, of Asthma UK, said: ‘While it’s not suitable for everyone, people with severe allergic asthma who benefit from taking Xolair can see a massive improvement in their quality of life.
‘Without it, many would be virtually housebound because of breathlessness and living in constant fear of the next life-threatening asthma attack.’
Olympic Team GB swimmer Jo Jackson, who competed in the London games and won a medal at Beijing, has credited the drug with saving her career.
Dr Robert Niven, senior lecturer in respiratory medicine, University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘Many patients unnecessarily accept the everyday limitations and sudden asthma attacks of severe allergic asthma.
‘This means they are unable to carry out simple everyday tasks such as shopping or working.’