Xolair asthma injections now available to children

xolairSeverely asthmatic children as young as just six years of age are now permitted a “life-changing” drug, following yesterday’s U-turn by a health watchdog.

This means that thousands of children aged six to 11 suffering with severe allergic asthma will be able to receive the benefits from omalizumab injections for the very first time.

Omalizumab, marketed as Xolair, is a long-term therapy usually administered via injection on a two week or monthly basis. It works to target the IgE antibody as people with severe allergic asthma have an elevated amount of IgE within their blood. This antibody causes the immune system to over-react upon the person coming into contact with their allergen, triggering asthma symptoms.

Approximately 2,000 severely affected patients have received the drug since its 2007 approval from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), who are responsible for NHS drug monitoring in addition to offering guidance and support.

Xolair was initially restricted to adults and children over the age of 12, but only if the patient had been admitted to hospital following a severe attack at least once.

In November of last year, NICE claimed Xolair was less effective and more expensive than they had first thought and spoke of ceasing offering the drug to new asthma patients.

That proposal caused outrage from doctors and patient groups, leading to charity Asthma UK campaigning for NICE to reverse the controversial plan. Asthma UK argued that omalizumab resulted in life-changing improvements by dramatically decreasing the number of attacks experienced by asthma patients.

However, NICE have now acknowledged the “life-changing” impact of Xolair reported by patients on the drug and say that as an addition to optimised standard therapy; Xolair is more clinically effective for the treatment of severe persistent allergic asthma than optimised standard therapy alone, causing total emergency visits to decrease. These include: A&E visits, hospital admissions and unscheduled GP appointments in adults.

In fact, studies have demonstrated how the drug has helped to cut hospital admissions by an incredible 61% and asthma attacks by an incredible 54% in patients with severe allergic asthma.

One of the patients the drug has been beneficial to is Olympic Team GB swimmer Jo Jackson, who competed in the London games last year and was a medallist at Beijing in 2008. Jackson has previously spoken about the treatment saving her career.

Going forward, the NHS will be required to incur the costs of the drug for those eligible from the 14,000 people with severe allergic asthma in the UK. Children and adults in Scotland are already eligible for Xolair, and Wales is expected to soon follow suit.

Xolair is produced by Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Novartis and averages about £8,000 in cost annually. However, the cost may range from anywhere between £1,665 to £26,640 each year depending on dose and frequency.

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.”

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