A late-stage trial has shown that Roche's new treatment for multiple sclerosis, Ocrelizumab, may be extremely effective at treating two different forms of the debilitating disease.
What’s even worse is that some of the treatments that have proven to be effective at slowing down the advance of the disease have dangerous side effects. As a result, many doctors will wait until later points in the diseases’ development to administer these treatments.
Roche’s new medication faces the typical regulatory barriers to market, but its developers are confident that the drug will be safer to use than some of the other more extreme treatments for the disease, calling ocrelizumab a highly effective treatment.
The medication will be administered to patients via infusion once every six months, and singles out a protein called CD20, which exists on the surface of B cells in the body’s immune system. According to Dr. Hauser, these cells trigger an inflammatory response that attacks myelin. Dr. Hauser’s findings helped identify B cells as one of the underlying mechanisms that moves multiple sclerosis progression forward, a leap forward from previous understandings about the disease.
While the drug performed well in trials overall, Dr. Hauser was particularly interested in one finding. Acute relapses can occur in patients with the relapsing form of MS roughly once each year, but magnetic resonance imaging research has revealed that the immune system attacks myelin in short bursts on a much more frequent basis. The medication was shown to reduce these relapses by as much as 95 percent, effectively switching off inflammation in the myelin sheaths.
Multiple sclerosis affects more than 2.3 million people across the globe, and roughly a quarter of a million people in the United States. The disease comes when the body’s immune system wages assaults on myelin sheaths, the protective lining on nerve fibers. The disease usually begins to develop between the ages of 20 and 40. It affects a disproportionate amount of women compared to men, and often results in disruption of the nervous system’s ability to transmit signals between the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body. Major symptoms of MS include fatigue, weakness, cognitive decline, and paralysis below the waist in extreme cases.
As of now, there is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatments for the disease usually aim to help the body regain function after an immune attack or help prevent additional attacks. Since women often develop the disease earlier in life, they have better survival rates with the available treatments.
Life expectancy of MS patients ranges from five to ten years on average, and can drop even lower in populations where medication is not readily available. In 2013 alone, roughly 20,000 people died from complications related to the disease.
While Roche’s new drug is certainly not a cure for the ailment, it could help patients survive long enough to begin showing signs of improvement.