By Maggie Fick
LONDON, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Britain’s agency that determines if medicines should be used in the National Health Service (NHS), has recommended stopping the use of five COVID-19 treatments, including Merck & Co’s’s antiviral pill for high-risk patients, citing cost-effectiveness concerns.
The review, conducted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and published on Wednesday, is its first involving COVID-19 treatments as the pandemic enters a new phase.
Many governments are or soon will be grappling with similar decisions. With COVID-related deaths and cases down significantly, many countries are navigating how to transition from the public health emergency phase.
The recommendations are a draft, NICE said, and until final guidance is published, access to COVID-19 medicines will continue as is. It did not say when final guidance would be published.
NICE acknowledged that there is evidence that Merck’s molnupiravir and Gilead Sciences Inc’s hospital-administered antiviral remdesivir are effective at treating COVID-19.
But it said it does not recommend their use at current prices because the cost-effectiveness estimates are higher than what it considers an acceptable use of the national health system’s resources.
It also recommended against three other COVID treatments, including GSK and partner Vir Biotechnology’s sotrovimab, an antibody therapy that the World Health Organization recommended against in September.
The other two are combination antibody treatments, Evusheld from AstraZeneca and Roche’s Ronapreve.
NICE did recommend three treatments for COVID in adults, Pfizer Inc’s oral antiviral Paxlovid and two repurposed arthritis drugs, RoActemra from Roche and Olumiant, made by Eli Lilly and Co, subject to approval in the UK for treating COVID-19.
One expert said that some of the COVID treatments NICE recommended against are an important part of the British government’s current strategy.
“Therapeutics are a major factor in the government’s “living” with COVID strategy as they provide a safety net for those unable to make beneficial responses to vaccines,” said Stephen Griffin, associate professor at Leeds Institute of Medical Research.
Ending use of these treatments would leave even more people vulnerable, he added.
The cost-effectiveness review comes as countries and global agencies mull other changes to COVID healthcare.
Last week, however, the Biden administration said the United States will keep in place the public health emergency status of the COVID pandemic there, allowing millions of Americans to still receive free tests, vaccines and treatments. (Reporting by Maggie Fick; Editing by Bill Berkrot)