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Paget doc's role in MS drug

PUBLISHED: 11:38 04 July 2010 | UPDATED: 21:50 01 August 2010

TEN years ago, Dr William Notcutt, from the James Paget University Hospital, embarked on a series of clinical trials into the treatment of MS, a chronic nervous disorder which causes severe muscle pain, spasms and visual and sensory problems.

TEN years ago, Dr William Notcutt, from the James Paget University Hospital, embarked on a series of clinical trials into the treatment of MS, a chronic nervous disorder which causes severe muscle pain, spasms and visual and sensory problems.

The clinical experiments centre on Sativex, an oral spray made from cannabis extract, which many health professionals have long supported in the treatment of MS because it alleviates severe symptoms.

Dr Notcutt's research on MS was used develop to develop Sativex and, while it has been used as a treatment in Canada for some years, it was not legalised in the UK.

His battle - along with a dedicated team at the Gorleston hospital - finally reached fruition and last week the first symptom-relief drug specifically for people with MS was licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The landmark decision means thousands of patients could benefit within weeks with a reduction in spasticity and their quality of life greatly improved.

“These trials have shown just how effective Sativex is but there was a lot of bureaucracy to get through because it is a cannabis extract,” Dr Notcutt said. “And manufacturers have had to jump through loops to get the drug licensed. It has always been quite controversial. That is why is has taken such a long time. I am over the moon that it has finally been licensed.

“MS is a very painful condition, and there are a lot of drugs which are not effective for pain relief. Sativex relieves spasms. It relaxes muscles to enable patients to walk and do other things much more easily. It greatly improves their quality of life.”

In Norfolk, it is believed there are at least 500 people with MS and across the country there are an estimated 100,000. It is thought the treatment is only effective in around 40pc of people who take it and it becomes clear within a matter of weeks if it's not working.

The trials were carried out on about 200 patients at the JPUH over the past 10 years. One of them was 32-year-old Victoria Hutchins, from Easton, who said her pain had been relieved “dramatically” since taking Sativex, which is sprayed under the tongue up to 12 times a day.

Sativex became the world's first cannabis medicine to win regulatory clearance when it was approved in Canada in 2005 for neuropathic pain, but its roll-out in Britain, and then potentially other European markets - by drug company GW Pharmaceuticals - is regarded as a major step in progressive medicine.

But although the drug has been approved by the Department of Health it now has to be officially adopted by individual primary care trusts, which could be another battle.

Dr Notcutt said: “The task is now to persuade PCTs to take on this treatment. It is up to each PCT and there are worries it could turn into a postcode lottery with some choosing to use it and some not.

“The good thing about Sativex, compared to other medication, is that the effects are known within a matter of weeks. It means a patient does not need to take it for ages without realising the benefits.

“The good results happen very fast, which is excellent news for patients.”

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