A medicine used to treat epilepsy and another for multiple sclerosis, have been accepted for use by the British National Health Service. The decision was made after new guidelines were released by NICE, the drugs advisory body after research was undertaken on a number of products for various conditions. the two approved drugs are grown and were developed in the UK.
Epidvolex is a cannabis-based drug developed for children with severe epilepsy. The two types of epilepsy it is destined to treat are Dravet Syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome. Both conditions can lead to multiple daily seizures.
The cannabis is taken as an oral solution which contains CBD, or cannabidiol, a naturally occurring component of cannabis plants. Trials have shown the medicine can reduce the amount of seizures up to 40% in some cases. Epidvolex was also approved for use in Europe in September 2019.
NICE initially state Epidvolex did not represent value for money, as it costs between £5000 and £10,000 pounds per patient annually. However, GW pharmaceuticals who manufacture Epidvolex, have agreed to lower the price for the NHS. An estimated 3000 people have Dravet syndrome and a further 5000 suffer from Lennox Gastaut in England. Unlike some other cannabis-based medicines, Epidvolex does not contain THC.
the other treatment to be approved is Sativex, a mouth spray that contains both THC and CBD. It has been approved to treat spasticity, an effect of multiple sclerosis. The spray helps to ease muscle stiffness and spasms, and also pain in MS and severe neuropathic-related cancer pain, but as yet, in England, doctors are not authorized to prescribe it for pain.
Sativex was the first cannabis-based drug to be granted a license in the UK following clinical trials. it has been available on the NHS in Wales since 2014. Scotland may follow England next year and make Sativex available with a prescription.
While the move is mostly welcomed, some campaigners claim it doesn't go far enough and more people should have access to cannabis-based drugs, including those that contain THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.
Some parents pay thousands of pounds a month to import medicines from Canada and Europe that contain THC and CBD, and they claim the THC in the medicines improves that children's condition significantly and are therefore disappointed that Epidvolex was approved over a drug that also as THC.
Others are furthermore frustrated that the guidelines have not allowed for cannabis-based treatments to be prescribed for pain, which is a huge problem for MS patients.
A further concern is that local health bodies who can prescribe the newly approved medicines may not have the financial resources needed to prescribe it for all deserving patients.