Wales has become the first country in the UK to approve the use of a cannabis-based medicine to treat symptoms of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Wales is the first UK nation to approve NHS funding for Sativex (nabiximols), an oral spray derived from cannabis. Welsh health minister Professor Mark Drakeford approved NHS funding of the drug, following a recommendation from the independent All Wales Medicine Strategy Group (AWMSG).
AWMSG’s decision comes despite a recommendation made earlier this year in a draft guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that the drug should not be made available in England and Wales, determining that the drug was not cost effective. With AWMSG’s approval, clinicians in Wales can now prescribe the medicine to treat muscle spasms in MS patients, should other forms of treatment not provide satisfactory results. Patients must show an improvement in symptoms after a trial period of receiving the drug.
AWMSG’s decision is in contrast to the guidance NICE has published in its draft Clinical Guideline on the management of multiple sclerosis in primary and secondary care, which concluded that Sativex was not recommended for use by the NHS. The MS Trust has been in communication with NICE and have requested a delay in the publication of the final guidance to enable further engagement with the MS community and ensure that the final guideline offers the best available care for MS patients.
Sativex was developed by GW Pharmaceuticals and is being marketed in the UK by Bayer Schering Pharma. The drug is a combination of two extracts from the cannabis sativa plant: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The drug is available as a spray to be administered onto the oral mucosa.
“We are extremely pleased that people with MS in Wales will finally have better access to Sativex. As a charity we have campaigned over a long period for Sativex to be widely available because of the significant impact that MS spasticity can have on daily activities. We just hope that this recommendation will now lead to Sativex being more easily accessible in the rest of the UK,” said Amy Bowen, Director of Service Development, MS Trust.
In a clinical trial evaluating Sativex in over 500 MS patients, 48 percent had a 20 percent or more improvement in their spasticity. Among those who responded, about 75 percent had an improvement of greater than 30 percent in their spasticity score within four weeks when compared to those taking placebo.
MS is a neurological condition which affects around 100,000 people in the UK, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Most people with the condition are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, but it can affect younger and older people too. MS is significantly more common among women. Roughly three times as many women have MS as men. MS symptoms include vision problems, balance problems and dizziness, fatigue, bladder problems, and stiffness and/or spasms. Additionally, the condition can affect memory and thinking and have an impact on emotions.
Sources: MS Trust; All Wales Medicines Strategy Group
Last updated: 8/21/14; 2:45pm EST