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Effective drug against multiple sclerosis may now increase in price

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 2nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Alemtuzumab is a new drug is the "most effective" treatment for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Researchers at the University of Cambridge say that alemtuzumab, a cancer drug, which wipes out and resets the immune system, has better results than other options. The down side? There is new concern that the drugs company that manufactures the medication is about to increase the cost of the drug as a result.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Around 100,000 people in the United Kingdom have multiple sclerosis. When the condition is diagnosed, the majority will have a form of the disease know as relapsing-remitting MS. In this strain of the condition, the symptoms can almost disappear for a time, before suddenly returning.

Alemtuzumab has shown benefits for MS in small studies. Typically used for leukemia patients, a blood cancer, controls the excess production of white blood cells. In MS patients, the dose eliminates the immune cells entirely, forcing a new immune system to be built from scratch which should not attack the nerves.

Two test trials compared the effectiveness of alemtuzumab with a first-choice drug, interferon beta-1a.

One compared the effectiveness in patients given the drug after being diagnosed, the other looked at patients given the drug after other treatments had failed.

Both showed the drug was around 50 percent more effective at preventing relapses and patients had less disability at the end of the study than when they started.

"Although other MS drugs have emerged over the last year, which is certainly good news for patients, none has shown superior effects on disability when compared to interferon except alemtuzumab," Dr. Alasdair Coles, from the University of Cambridge says.

"It is certainly the most effective MS drug, based on these clinical trials, but this is definitely not a cure," he told reporters from the BBC.

The doctor warns that there were side-effects, including developing other immune disorders.

He said he thought the drug would be most useful for patients for whom standard treatment had failed and in a "minority" of patients as a first-choice drug.

The drug has been withdrawn from the market in both Europe and the United States as the manufacturer, Genzyme, intends to have it licensed as a treatment for MS.

"There is concern that with a license for multiple sclerosis, the cost of alemtuzumab could rise and might become too expensive for many patients and health systems," an editorial in the medical journal the Lancet warns.

"Finding promising treatments such as alemtuzumab are important. But so is keeping alemtuzumab accessible and affordable."

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