Two cannabis-based medicines approved for NHS

16th January 2020

We recently wrote about the EU approval of Epidiolex, but things seem to be moving quickly and since then two medications have been approved for use by the NHS in England. This follows guidance from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) which looked at the product thoroughly and assessed its suitability based on several factors. 

Only one of the medicines, epidiolex has been approved for use for people with epilepsy syndromes. The second treatment, Sativex is a mouth spray that has been approved for use with multiple-sclerosis. Regardless, this is good news for campaigners who have been fighting to have cannabis-based medications made available on the NHS following a number of high profile cases where the medicine has proved effective. 

At present, the medication is only available for children who have two syndromes, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet. Both syndromes are difficult to manage and may result in multiple seizures per day. Although a step in the right direction there are still arguments that not enough is being done to make other medications available on the NHS for other syndromes and requirements. 

Clinical trials have demonstrated that Epidiolex can reduce seizures by 40% in children with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet. It was approved for use in Europe back in September, but NICE guidance claimed it was not value for money. Now that approval for the NHS is official, it should make it easier for families to access the drug for their children. This is especially important as there are approximately 3,000 people in the UK with Dravet syndrome and a further 5,000 with Lennox-Gastaut.  

The plants for these medications are grown in the UK, and once harvested are also developed in the UK. However, unlike Sativex, Epidiolex does not contain THC, which is the psychoactive component of cannabis. Many campaigners would argue that medication with THC included can also be effective at treating epilepsy, so it’s unlikely that this will be the last we will hear on the subject as campaigners push for more varieties of cannabis-based medication. 

It costs between £5,000 and £10,000 per year per patient taking Epidiolex, which is believed to have been part of the difficulty in getting it approved for NHS use. This is mainly due to an agreement between the NHS and manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals to provide the medication at a discounted rate.

Prof Helen Cross, a consultant in paediatric neurology at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who led UK trials of Epidiolex said it was “great news”.

“Dravet and Lennox Gastaut syndromes are both complex difficult epilepsies with limited effective treatment options and this gives patients another option… that could make a difference to care,” she said.

Other people have echoed Professor Cross’ sentiments and it’s been a widely popular decision amongst the epilepsy community. 

Keep checking back to our website and blog for more information on the advancement of cannabis-based medications.