Breakthrough: Miracle drug slashes multiple sclerosis by half

Breakthrough: Miracle drug slashes multiple sclerosis by half

A brand new drug from Roche has the medical community excited.

Switzerland-based drug company Roche has produced a new drug — ocrelizumab — that just scored a major success in two large clinical trials, slashing multiple sclerosis relapses by nearly 50 percent.

That’s compared to the performance of Rebif, an older product, which would be a huge advance in the treatment of MS relapses, according to a Reuters report.

Ocrelizumab also showed big gains against MS disability, cutting it by a quarter is a separate study in patients who had primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a form of the disease that affects about 15 percent of all patients — and there is not yet any treatment for it.

And the good thing about ocrelizumab is that it doesn’t have heavy side effects. That, combined with its effectiveness, could make this the next miracle drug for MS, and a drug that potentially could pull in billions of dollars every year for the company.

The findings in the trials were unveiled this week at the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, which took place in Barcelona, Spain.

Rebif, which is the current interferon drug, reduced relapses by about a third — a solid performer. But the new drug beat even that in the trials, and significantly, reducing the relapse rate by 46 and 47 percent. Rebif is produced by drugmaker Merck.

Roche will seek regulatory approval early next year, which implies that they hope to put it out to market about a year later, according to the report.

There are other treatments out there, such as Biogen’s Tysabri and Sanofi’s Lemtrada, but they are injections that have severe side effects. Then there is Novartis’ Gilenya and Biogen’s Tecfidera, which come in pill form. These are potent drugs that are typically reserved only for when MS is in its advanced stages.

Ocrelizumab offers the opportunity to treat MS earlier, heading it off at the pass before it gets to the advanced stages, and without the severe side effects of the potent drugs.

And that’s important, because MS is characterized by an abnormal immune system, and drugs that wreak too much havoc can lead to health problems.

Ocrelizumab is administered through intravenous drop twice every year. Although patients don’t generally prefer this method, they can be combined with regular neurologist visits to reduce the inconvenience.

Here’s what the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has to say about MS:

It is an “an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body,” the organization’s website states. “The cause of MS is still unknown – scientists believe the disease is triggered by as-yet-unidentified environmental factor(s) in a person who is genetically predisposed to respond.”

On what it is exactly: “In multiple sclerosis (MS), damage to the myelin coating around the nerve fibers in the central nervous system (CNS) and to the nerve fibers themselves interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body. Disrupted nerve signals cause the symptoms of MS, which vary from one person to another and over time for any given individual, depending on where the damage occurs. The diagnosis of MS requires evidence of at least two areas of damage in the CNS, which have occurred at different times.”

Common symptoms of MS include fatigue, walking difficulties, numbness or tingling, spasticity, weakness, vertigo, bladder and bowel problems, sexual problems, and vision problems.

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