Attleborough mum hails new MS pill

An Attleborough mum-of-two has told how a new pill for multiple sclerosis has completely changed her life.

Mum-of-two Amanda Cook has been taking fingolimod, the first oral treatment developed for the autoimmune disease, as part of a clinical trial since 2008.

The drug, which is being hailed as one of the biggest breakthroughs in MS treatment since injection therapies were introduced 15 years ago, was this week given the green light by UK drug regulators and licensed as a 'second line'' treatment for patients who have failed on other medication.

The drug can be given to patients whose condition is not being controlled by self-administered injections of beta interferon or glatiramer acetate.

Mrs Cook was diagnosed with MS in 2004 and had several relapses while taking the standard injectable treatment and experienced bad side effects from the injections.

The 45-year-old has not had a relapse since she started taking fingolimod and has been able to continue her work as a deputy sister in the emergency assessment unit for surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Her most severe relapse lead to her being unable to balance and she lost her ability to sense where her limbs were in relation to her body. She constantly felt ill and tired and had to rely on the support of family and friends while she had eight months off from work.

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Mrs Cook, who lives off Dodds Road, said: 'When you have a relapse you wonder if you are ever going to be able to walk normally again, and for some people, they don't. You think that your next relapse could leave you never being able to move again and you never quite know when it's coming.'

She added: 'It gives back a bit of hope for the future and a bit of faith that my future might not be as bleak as I thought it would once be.

'When you hear about MS you think of people ending up in wheelchairs, and that is the reality for some.

'But this drug gives people like me hope that it will just stop it dead and a bit of faith that the progression will be slowed so the deteroriation could be much, much less than previously.'

Mrs Cook's consultant neurologist Martin Lee is part of a team at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital which provides care for around 1,800 people with MS.

He been a lead trialist for fingolimod since 2004 and took part in the trial which helped to establish its licence.

He said: 'This new tablet is very exciting and a double dose of good news for MS patients.

'Patients love it because it's a pill and we like it because it's a more effective pill - twice as effective as a standard therapy.

'This is at least as significant as when injection therapies first came in 15 years ago.'

Draft guidance on fingolimod will be issued next month by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) which assesses the cost effectiveness of new treatments.

Its recommendations will largely decide the extent to which the drug is made freely available to NHS patients in England.

At the moment the drug will only be available on the NHS by indidivual funding requests, which are made by a consultant to the local primary care trust on the basis that there is some unusual or unique clinical factor and the case is exceptional.

PCTs consider these requests on a case-by-case basis, and Dr Lee said he hoped to be making a few applications for patients.

Treating one patient with fingolimod for a year is estimated to cost �19,665, compared with �21,257 for natalisumab.

MS occurs when the body's own immune system destroys the fatty myelin that protects and insulates nerve fibres.

Loss of myelin disrupts nerve transmissions and can lead to symptoms ranging from mild tingling sensations to serious paralysis.

MS affects around 100,000 people in Britain, and relapses requiring hospitalisation cost the NHS more than �3,000 per episode.

Fingolimod, marketed as Gilenya, is said to halve relapse rates among patients with an active form of the disease.