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Pfizer to submit evidence to NICE inquiry

Published on 16/02/07 at 03:46pm

Pfizer has confirmed that it is to submit evidence to a forthcoming inquiry into the workings of NICE.

The Commons Health Select Committee announced in early February that it is to conduct an inquiry into NICE, and its MP members are particularly keen to understand why its decisions seem to be unpopular so frequently and subject to challenges.

The select committee is now inviting stakeholders to make written submissions by the end of March and Pfizer's decision to submit its views comes as no surprise.

The company co-markets Alzheimer's drug Aricept with Eisai, and is preparing to mount the first legal challenge to a NICE decision after the body ruled that some patients with the disease should no longer receive drug treatment.

The MPs could decide to invite Pfizer and Eisai to explain in person their experience of working with NICE when the committee inquiry hearings begin in April.

The inquiry, the first of its kind in five years, is expected to be wide-ranging  and will also make comparisons with Scotland's equivalent body, the SMC.

Since being set up by the government in 1999, NICE has rarely been far from controversy, with patient groups and pharma companies frequently protesting against its decisions to restrict or bar access to certain drugs and treatments.

Charity the Alzheimer's Society is also involved in the judicial review of NICE's decision on Alzheimer's drugs and has welcomed the select committee inquiry.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, commented: "This inquiry should put a long overdue spotlight on NICE's methods and the Alzheimer's Society will be submitting evidence to the (government) committee."

He concluded: "Hopefully, this review will highlight the changes that NICE should make to ensure people get the treatments they need and deserve."

NICE does have many supporters and admirers, however, who believe it plays a vital role in promoting evidence-based medicine and best practice.

The Health Select Committee last conducted an inquiry into NICE in 2002, making a number of recommendations focusing on the transparency of its decision-making and the inclusion of a broad range of stakeholders.

NICE has evolved significantly since that time, but the transparency and soundness of its decision-making process remains a bone of contention for critics.

The governments health select committee has set out seven areas of investigation:

·Why NICE's decisions are being challenged more frequently;

·The institute's evaluation process - and whether particular groups are being disadvantaged in the process;

·The speed of publication of  NICE's clinical guidance;

·The way its appeal system works;

·Whether public confidence in NICE is waning and if so, why;

·The method in which NICE recommendations are implemented - both in technology appraisals and clinical guidance - and the reasons why guidance is acted upon or not;

·A comparison with the work of the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN).

Written submissions must be received by Friday, 23 March, and the first of the hearings is likely to be held around mid-April.

NICE's chairman, Prof Sir Michael Rawlins, said: "Since its inception in 1999, the institute has evolved in response to the challenges the NHS faces in setting national standards for promoting good health and preventing and treating ill-health."

He added: "Our aim is to do everything we can to support the patients, carers and health professionals that our guidance benefits and we welcome the opportunity to assist the health select committee in investigating the challenges we face to make this a reality."

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