Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease that affects over 2 million people worldwide. In patients who suffer from MS, an abnormal immune response causes damage to a fatty substance called myelin. Like the coating around an electrical wire, myelin insulates nerve cells and facilitates neural communication. Symptoms of MS include muscle weakness, fatigue, and impaired speech. On March 28th 2017, the FDA approved Ocrevus, an immunosuppressive drug developed by Genentech that offers new hope for patients with MS.
Ocrevus targets a specific type of immune cell (CD20-positive B cells) which orchestrates the myelin damage associated with MS. In clinical trials, Ocrevus cut relapses by 47% in patients with the most common form of MS. This form is characterized by periods of worsening neurologic symptoms (relapses), followed by partial recovery (remissions). Importantly, Ocrevus is the first treatment to show efficacy in patients with the most aggressive form of the disease, known as primary-progressive MS. Unfortunately, Ocrevus can cause serious side effects that will need to be monitored moving forward. For example, the drug’s immunosuppressive effects increase the risk of cancer.
Ocrevus will be available within two weeks and will likely become the new first-line therapy for patients with MS.
Related SITN Coverage: Ocrelizumab: The first treatment for primary progressive multiple sclerosis
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Nivanthika K. Wimalasena, a member of the Harvard program in Neuroscience, and Enrique Garcia-Rivera, a member of the Harvard program for Chemical Biology and Therapeutic Sciences, for providing their expertise and commentary on the topic.
Managing Correspondent: Benika Pinch
Original Article: Ocrelizumab versus Interferon Beta-1a in Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis – the New England Journal of Medicine
Media Coverage: F.D.A. Approves First Drug To Treat Severe Multiple Sclerosis – the New York Times