The United Kingdom’s medical advisory board has said that a cannabis-based drug used to treat epileptic children is too expensive to prescribe to patients even if it reduces seizures.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), it would not recommend Epidiolex — a drug containing cannabidiol (CBD) combined with clobazam, which is an anti-seizure ingredient — in the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These two are different types of severe epilepsy.
NICE’s draft guidelines stated that while there is evidence that Epidiolex reduces the frequency of seizures among epileptic patients, it is just too pricey. Moreover, the body said that the long-term effects of the drug are not clear.
The Department of Health and Social Care asked NICE to examine whether Epidiolex should be used in England’s National Health Service to treat rare childhood conditions. This medication does not contain the psychoactive cannabis ingredient THC.
In its draft guidelines, NICE acknowleged that the drug reduces the number of seizures that are associated with the two types of epileptic conditions. However, the body said that while this is the case, they still have concerns about the validity of the manufacturer’s economic models.
Epidiolex is manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, which, ironically, is a UK-based company. The drug is now being used in the United States. In fact, it is the first cannabis-derived medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
NICE believes that GW Pharma had failed to explore the possibility of Epidiolex becoming less effective over time. This, they noted, is the case with other anti-epilepsy drugs.
NICE added that patients and caregivers who currently have access to cannabis-based drugs to treat and manage epileptic seizures won’t be affected by their decision not to recommend it.
There is a limited number of patients in the country who have been granted a license to use medical cannabis to treat epilepsy and its symptoms. Some, however, are resorting to bringing in medical cannabis from abroad.
Many are not happy!
According to a Cannabis Patient Advocacy Support Services spokeswoman, the news was disappointing for parents as medical cannabis has helped children in some cases.
Meanwhile, Professor David Nutt, who heads the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, Imperial College London, expressed that the lack of recommendation may make the availability of cannabis-derived medication on the NHS a lost cause.