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Britain’s NICE to Speed Up Reviews of COVID-19 Treatments

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s agency that determines if medicines should be used in the National Health Service (NHS) said on Thursday it is speeding up how it decides if COVID-19 therapies are still effective against circulating variants.

The new review process will enable the agency to update its recommendations on the cost-effectiveness of COVID treatments so they can be made available more swiftly to patients, it said.

“The rapidly evolving nature of COVID-19 means we need to have a way of establishing the cost effectiveness of existing medicines against current variants in an agile way,” the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said.

It said it will “monitor real world data and re-evaluate the medicines as needed against that data in a faster way than we currently do for other drugs.”

The agency decided that a quicker update system was needed for COVID-19 medicines than for other medicines, a spokesperson told Reuters, adding that, in come cases, evidence has emerged swiftly that shows certain monoclonal antibody treatments have different effectiveness against new variants compared to when NICE’s recommendation was made.

One expert said the new review system was a smart move.

“NICE recognise that the virus is evolving faster than the evidence can be produced and their assessment process can be undertaken, so that they need to find a way of more rapidly assessing treatments for the immune vulnerable,” said Alex Richter, Director of the Clinical Immunology Service at the University of Birmingham.

The spokesperson cited the example of Evusheld, a antibody therapy from AstraZeneca.

NICE said in its statement that it does not recommend the use of Evusheld for preventing COVID-19 in adults who are unlikely to have an adequate immune response to vaccination, or for whom vaccination is not recommended.

It said there is no evidence of Evusheld’s clinicial effectiveness against current variants and those likely to be circulating in the next 6 months.

The agency is still evaluating Evusheld’s efficacy when it’s used to prevent COVID-19 infection in adults who are at high risk of severe disease, such as people with cancer.

Evusheld was initially approved by the UK drugs regulator as a preventative therapy in March 2022, but the government said in August that it would not be procuring the treatment.

The announcement comes as demand for COVID treatments appears set to drop this year, due to population immunity from high rates of vaccination and previous infections.

With COVID-related deaths and cases down significantly, many countries are navigating how to transition from the public health emergency phase, and facing questions about the cost to their budgets of COVID care moving forward.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Natalie Grover; Editing by Mike Harrison)

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  • Posted on February 16, 2023