New MS drug brings hope
Sep 19, 2012 / 4:01 pm
Two major patient trials of an experimental drug for the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis have found the oral medication significantly improves patients' symptoms.
The studies, both published in Wednesday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, show the drug BG-12 reduces the rate of annual relapses and the number of brain lesions that are hallmarks of the disease.
The studies show BG-12 (dimethyl fumarate), a drug long used in Europe to treat psoriasis, cut the annualized rate of relapses among MS patients participating in the studies by 45 to 50 per cent compared to MS patients given a placebo.
"That is a very robust reduction in relapses," said Dr. Robert Fox, director of the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and principal investigator of one of the studies, known as CONFIRM.
"It's not a cure. None of our therapies is a cure for MS at this point. But it appears to be a greater reduction than what we see with injectable therapies, which (offer) roughly a 30 per cent reduction in the annualized relapse rate."
Fox said patients in the CONFIRM and DEFINE studies who were randomly assigned to receive BG-12 also had considerable reductions in brain lesions, between 70 and 90 per cent lower than patients given the dummy pill, depending on the type of brain lesion looked at in MRI exams.
BG-12 was well-tolerated for the most part, although some patients experienced flushing of the skin on the chest, neck and face within about 45 minutes of taking the pill, an effect that resolved within 15 to 20 minutes, he said.
More troublesome for patients was gastrointestinal upset, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, associated with the drug. Fox said those adverse symptoms seem to peak in the first month after starting the drug and decline in frequency and severity as time goes on.
BG-12, developed by Biogen Idec Inc., must be approved by government regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada, before it would become available to treat patients.
"What this drug appears to provide is a significant step forward in the combination of efficacy, safety and tolerability," said Fox.
"So it appears to be more effective than our standard first-line injectable therapies."
Multiple sclerosis is a disabling disease in which the protective coating around nerve cells, called myelin, is attacked by the immune system and progressively destroyed. With an estimated 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians affected, Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.
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