The US Food and Drug administration has approved the first prescribed medication to treat a severe form of multiple sclerosis. This new treatment offers hope for patients who in the past had no other options to fight the relentless progression paralysis and cognitive decline associated with the disease.
The FDA has also approved the same drug for use in patients with the more common relapsing form of multiple sclerosis. The drug, ocrelizumab, is a targeted protein molecule that appears to be a major breakthrough in the fight against multiple sclerosis.
In the US, there are currently 400,000 people with MS and about 15% have the primary progressive form. Doctors who treat multiple sclerosis patients agree that this drug could not only improve the quality of life but also slow down mental decline. In recent clinical trials, the benefits of this drug have been quite impressive.
Ocrelizumab will be sold under the brand name Ocrevus by Genentech. Initial results of the drug are very promising and the drug has shown the potential to halt the progression of the disease. In addition, findings show only a few serious adverse effects.
In patients with the most severe form, primary progressive multiple sclerosis, the drug only mildly slowed down the decline in paralysis and cognitive ability. But despite these findings, most experts who treat multiple sclerosis patients indicate that this is an important first step towards development of more effective drugs.
While the drug seems promising, it is important to note that it can have potent adverse effects in some patients and there is still a need to further investigate its long-term side effects. Reported side effects of Ocrevus in the trials were pain at the site of infusion, cold sores and upper respiratory tract infections.
Another important consideration is the fact that the drug is expensive costing nearly $5,000-$6,000 a month. Even then, it is around 25% cheaper than the drug that is currently used to treat MS. Rebif, which is clinically inferior to Ocrevus for the treatment of multiple sclerosis patients, is sold for nearly $9,000 a month.
Even though some health plans cover the cost of the drug, patients still face hefty deductibles and co-payments as no one covers 100% of the cost of the drug. Since many patients with multiple sclerosis are disabled and unemployed, one wonders how they will be able to afford this treatment.