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Hay fever: the cure and the catch

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  • Hay fever: the cure and the catch

    June 12, 2007 -- Hay fever sufferers are being denied access to a once-a-day oral pill which could transform their lives because NHS trusts will not pay for it, it was claimed last night.

    It is thought millions of Britons could benefit from the tablet, which is thought to produce a long-term improvement in symptoms for people who have the condition.

    Results of a study published yesterday showed that the longer the pill Grazax was taken, the greater the protection it offered.

    Hay fever affects about 20 per cent of the UK population - more than 10 million people - of whom one million are so badly affected it interferes with their lives.

    The new drug, manufactured by the Danish company ALK-Abello, contains small amounts of Timothy grass and is designed to recondition the immune system’s response to pollen in people who do not respond to normal treatment.

    Results from a trial of 2,500 patients in 12 European countries and Canada, unveiled at a conference in Gothenburg yesterday, showed it could produce a cumulative and long-term improvement.

    The study showed it reduced symptoms by 36 per cent in the second year compared with a 30 per cent reduction in the first year.

    There was also a 44 per cent reduction, in the second year, in the need for patients to use “rescue medication” such as antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays, compared with a 38 per cent reduction in the first year.

    But Peter Anderson, the UK managing director of ALK-Abello, said the “lion’s share” of NHS Trusts in the UK had yet to decide whether to fund the drug.

    “About 20-30 have reached a decision and about a dozen have agreed to fund it,” he told The Independent.

    In the UK, the drug costs £67.50 a month, about £2,400 for the three-year course, so the cost of treating the one million worst-affected sufferers would be £800 million a year.

    But Professor Pamela Ewan, a consultant allergy specialist at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, and one of the UK investigators in the Grazax trial, said it was hoped that taking the drug for four months each year over the pollen season would be equally effective, cutting the cost by two-thirds.

    She said of the drug: “The results are quite impressive. It appears safe and it is convenient to take. But we can’t prescribe it because we can’t get anyone to fund it. The problem is the cost and the potential number of patients.”

    The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is not currently looking at whether the drug should be paid for by the NHS.

    A Department of Health spokesman said: “Patients should not be refused a treatment simply because NICE guidance does not exist. Where drugs are licensed, primary care trusts should consider funding if recommended by the commission and in the light of existing evidence.”


  • #2
    June 12, 2007 -- A once-a-day pill for hay fever that could transform the lives of sufferers is being denied to thousands of those most severely affected because of the cost.

    The pill, which is dissolved under the tongue, is the first oral vaccine developed for hay fever. But the majority of NHS trusts have failed to fund it. With the hay fever season at its peak, millions of people with an allergy to grass pollen are sneezing, snuffling and rubbing itchy eyes. Hay fever affects about 20 per cent of the UK population - more than 10 million people - of whom up to one million are so badly affected it interferes with their lives.

    The new treatment, Grazax, is the first oral vaccine for hay fever developed to tackle the underlying condition rather than the symptoms. Manufactured by a Danish company, and licensed in January, it contains small amounts of Timothy grass and is designed to "recondition" the immune system's response to pollen in people who do not respond to normal treatment.

    According to a study released yesterday, the vaccine can produce a cumulative and long-term improvement for hayfever sufferers. Results presented at an international allergy conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, yesterday showed that the longer the treatment is taken the greater the protection it offers.

    A trial in 2,500 patients in 12 European countries and Canada showed it reduced symptoms by 36 per cent in the second year compared with a 30 per cent reduction in the first year. Patients in the trial were allowed to use their usual antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays and the findings showed a 44 per cent reduction in the need for this "rescue" medication in the second year, compared with a 38 per cent reduction in the first year.

    Campaigners for allergy-sufferers are now insisting that the new pill be made generally available. A spokesman for Allergy UK said the incidence of severe hay fever was growing but there was a shortage of allergy clinics. Six specialist centres and 32 allergy specialists serve the entire country. "The hayfever season is getting longer and the condition can be very debilitating. This pill is very effective and it should be available. We need to see more funding for it."

    The hayfever season coincides each year with the exam season. A study released yesterday showed half of children with untreated hay fever suffer reduced concentration, potentially affecting their future prospects.

    Professor Jean Emberlin, the director of the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit, who led the study, said: "It appears that when suffering from hay fever, children are less able to concentrate on specific tasks. This is a trend that I have previously suspected and heard in anecdotal evidence, and this study offers further evidence to confirm the relationship.

    "Often hay fever is trivialised, but this helps to bring it to the forefront of people's minds, and emphasises the need for parents to take the problem seriously."

    Professor Pamela Ewan, a consultant allergy specialist at Addenbrookes hospital, Cambridge, and one of the UK investigators on the Grazax trial, said: "The results are quite impressive. It appears safe and it is convenient to take. But we can't prescribe it because we can't get anyone to fund it. The problem is the cost and the potential number of patients."

    Treatment with Grazax is recommended to start eight weeks before the beginning of the grass pollen season and to continue daily for three years. In the UK the drug costs £67.50 a month, about £2,400 for the three-year course. The cost of treating the one million worst-affected hayfever sufferers would be £800m a year. Professor Ewan said it was hoped that taking the drug for four months each year over the pollen season would be equally effective, which would cut the cost by two-thirds.

    The only alternative treatment for severely affected sufferers is a course of immunotherapy injections, which require weekly hospital visits and close monitoring in case of side effects. It is risky, inconvenient and costly, and is limited to a couple of thousand patients in the UK. In contrast, Grazax, does not require injection or attendance at hospital, is safe and can be taken at home. This increases its appeal and the likely pressure on the NHS budget.

    Stephen Durham, a professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London and the Royal Brompton Hospital, London, who led the study presented at the 26th European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology Congress (EAACI) in Sweden yesterday, said: "Reducing symptoms and improvement in quality of life are the number one priorities for hayfever sufferers ... The ongoing trial may also show whether long term remission occurs with Grazax, which would be great news for allergy sufferers."

    Early results from some patients followed up for six years suggest the effects of the vaccine are long lasting. Professor Durham said the treatment was suitable for severely affected individuals in whom other treatments were not effective. "I believe about 10 per cent of the hayfever population, potentially a million patients in the UK, could benefit from this treatment."

    Peter Anderson, the UK managing director of ALK-Abello, the Danish manufacurer of Grazax, said the "lion's share" of NHS Trusts in the UK had yet to decide whether to fund the drug. "About 20-30 have reached a decision and about a dozen have agreed to fund it."

    Pollen, pollution and the symptoms that cause misery

    * Hay fever is the commonest allergy in Western countries, affecting an estimated 20 per cent of the population in Britain.

    * It is an acute allergic reaction to airborne particles of pollen which penetrate the nose, throat and upper respiratory passages.

    * Typical symptoms include red, itchy and watery eyes, blocked or runny nose, frequent sneezing, coughing, and wheezing.

    * The symptoms are caused by the over-sensitivity of the mucous membrane that lines the inside of the nose, throat and eyes.

    * The commonest cause of hay fever is grass pollen. Pollen from birch trees especially causes hay fever in spring and from mugwort and chrysanthemum in autumn.

    * Hay fever affects many people in towns because of pollution. Pollen grains become attached to particles from car exhausts, increasing their allergy-inducing effect.

    * Treatment is mostly symptomatic, with anti-histamines and steroids to reduce the inflammation in the mucous membrane.

    'I can be sneezing all day in summer': Lisa Young, hay-fever sufferer, 37

    The first thing Lisa Young does every morning is swallow her anti-histamine tablets in a vain attempt to keep the runny nose and itchy eyes that blight every summer at bay.

    "My eyes are the worst, smarting, itchy, continually sore. As soon as I go outside I start to itch. I can be sneezing all day in summer. I have suffered badly for years."

    Aged 37, she is a teaching assistant in Reading and has to accompany classes outside which can make it difficult to work. Her two children, Jane, eight, and Cain, four, are also affected and under the care of the specialist allergy clinic in Basingstoke.

    Ms Young said of Grazax: "It sounds like what I need. If it can ward off the effects of hay fever and is more effective than anti-histamines, then I would be very interested in having it. It should be provided on the NHS."

    Allergies are growing throughout the UK and people who live in towns tend to be worst affected, owing to the pollution interacting with the pollen grains.

    Ms Young said she knew many friends and neighbours who suffered in a similar way. "Where we live in the Thames Valley, it seems to be bad for allergies."

    If it is too late for her to have the oral vaccine herself, she would want it for her children, she said. Grazax is not licensed for children, but it may be in the future.

    Comment


    • #3
      I think they should fund it and make it avaliable - my mother suffers from hayfever- and subhanallaah the effect the season's have upon her is really detrimental! besides it seems that the number is increasing all the time - must be the pollution and smog and stuff that adds to it.

      i don't see why they don't fund it, i mean they are prepared to treat smokers and those who like drinking - why not those who have no control over this allergy? the government, makes me sick

      Comment

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