FDA approves drug to treat MS

Elizabeth Harasym

Science & Tech Editor

Those suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) may have hope for their future in treating the disabling disease. On March 28th, the Food and Drug Administration announced the approval of a drug called Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) used for the treatment of relapsing forms of MS and primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS).

MS is a chronic, immune-mediated disease in which the body’s immune system targets the central nervous system. The immune B and T cells attack the myelin encasing nerve fibers and the fibers themselves. The cause for the body’s immune system to target its own central nervous system remains unknown. While the etiology of the disease is not clear, evidence suggests that environmental factors such as the further one lives from the equator and smoking may increase the frequency of MS. In addition, genetic and infectious factors may influence the occurrence of the disease.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
THE FDA recently announced a new drug used for relapsing and primary progressive multiple sclerosis treatment that targets B cells responsible for detiorating myelinated neurons, like the one featured above.

When the myelin and nerve fibers become damaged, the nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain become impeded, resulting in the symptoms associated with the disease. The demyelination also results in scar tissue formation of the nerve fibers, further exacerbating the symptoms. These symptoms include but are not limited to: body pain, tremors, muscle cramping, weakness, paralysis, fatigue, sensory abnormalities, sexual dysfunction, depression and cognitive decline. The symptoms of MS are often variable among those affected, however, and the degree to which they can occur can fluctuate over time. For most suffering from MS, periods of worsening function or relapses are often followed by periods of remission. PPMS is described as a steady decline in function from the first onset of symptoms.

Ocrevus, is the first drug approved as a therapy for those suffering with PPMS and has also passed as treatment for relapsing MS. Administered as an intravenous infusion, the monoclonal antibody Ocrevus targets the B cells responsible for myelin and axonal degradation. In clinical trials for the new drug, 1656 relapsing MS patients were treated for 96 weeks and showed reduced relapse rates and worsening of disabilities. Though other medications exist for relapsing MS treatment, Ocrevus has very few side effects in comparison to other drugs on the market. In another clinical study of the new drug, 732 PPMS sufferers were treated for at least 120 weeks, and the drug moderately slowed the patients’ progression. Though efficacy for this more progressive form of MS was lower this is a tremendous stepping-stone for PPMS treatment.

Ocrevus will be sold by the company Genentech at list price of $65,000 a year, a comparable price to other MS treatments on the market if not lower. Genentech set this price purposefully in order to allow MS treatment to be more obtainable for those suffering with the disease.

The announcement of Ocrevus’s approval is a breakthrough for so many affected by MS, and the future looks even more promising for MS research and treatment.


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