By Carla Schick
March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Education and Awareness Month. With that in mind, here are some highlights of the newest information regarding MS.
One thing is for sure: Doctors, scientists and patients know more about MS today than they did back in 1970 when scientists first discovered that a single gene was linked to the disease. In 2007, that number increased to three genetic links. And, as recently as August 2011, scientists discovered that there are now 57 genetic links, some previously identified, some newly identified and worthy of study. With 400,000 people affected in the U.S. and 2.5 million worldwide, these findings are exciting news indeed.
MS is at once an apparent and insidious condition. In an IG Living article titled “Understanding and Treating Multiple Sclerosis,” author Amy Scanlin wrote that “symptoms of MS can occur as discrete attacks or as a relapsing form, or the symptoms can accumulate over time, as with progressive MS. Symptoms also may completely disappear between attacks, but the underlying effects during those attacks are the cause of the neurological problems that later occur.”
Some of the most revolutionary therapies for MS treatment have occurred in recent years. One of the top medical breakthroughs is a new product called Gilenya, manufactured by Novartis International AG. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gilenya as the first oral treatment for MS for reducing the number of relapses, as well as for reducing the physical symptoms.
Ampyra, manufactured by Acorda Therapeutics, is another drug that was recently approved by the FDA. It has been shown to be effective as the first treatment to target the symptoms that severely compromise MS patients’ ability to walk, and it has proved effective for those with all types of MS.
Later this year, two more encouraging therapies are expected to be brought to market. The first new drug is called alemtuzumab (Campath) created by manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur and its subsidiary Genzyme along with Bayer Healthcare. Promising results from a Phase III clinical trial show a 55 percent reduction in relapse at two years in adults with relapsing-remitting MS treated with alemtuzumab. During the first quarter of this year, Sanofi, Genzyme and Bayer are expected to file for U.S. and European Union approval. The FDA has already granted alemtuzumab a fast track designation. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre, the designation will “expedite the review of new drugs that are intended to treat serious or life-threatening conditions and demonstrate the potential to address unmet medical needs.”
The second promising therapy is BG-12 from manufacturer Biogen Idec. BG-12 is a new oral therapy in Phase III clinical development as a monotherapy for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS. As with Sanofi’s alemtuzumab, BG-12 also has been given fast track designation for MS by the FDA. Other MS treatments include the use of autoimmune-suppressing corticosteroids and the blood cleansing procedure of plasma exchange, or plasmapheresis, as short-term secondary therapies.
Another method of treatment is intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy. IVIG is often used as a secondary management option for patients with long periods of clinical remission. As a matter of fact, there are numerous published European studies that have confirmed the benefits of IVIG therapy in those patients with clinically definite relapsing-remitting MS. These studies demonstrated a reduction in the acute relapse rate and the number of contrast-enhance lesions on monthly MRI scans. And, most importantly, MS patients who received IVIG infusions spent significantly more time in an improved or stable neurological state as compared with the placebo groups, suggesting a better quality of life for IVIG patients during remission.
Exercise, once thought to aggravate the aching symptoms of MS, has been found to improve cardiovascular function and strength, bone density, bowel health, mood and overall quality of life, as well as to reduce symptoms. But before starting a new exercise regimen, patients should speak to a doctor to determine what type of physical activity is best.
In the past, MS was considered untreatable, but new developments may prove it has met its medical match. Finally, there are approved drugs and therapies on the market that can help MS patients find relief, and more are on the way.
To learn more about the information found in this blog, read the IG Living article “Understanding and Treating Multiple Sclerosis,” or visit the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre at http://www.msrc.co.uk/index.cfm/fuseaction/show/pageid/1307.
How has your life been impacted by MS?