July 18, 2012

Popular MS Treatment May Not Slow Progression

(Ivanhoe Newswire)– A widely prescribed MS treatment may not be as effective in the long term as some would have hoped. New research shows that there´s no strong evidence that a group of drugs, beta interferons (ß-IFNs), prescribed to treat MS, had a measurable impact on the long-term disability progression of the disease.

The study was led by researchers with the UBC Hospital MS Clinic and Brain Research Centre at Vancouver Coastal Health and the University of British Columbia. The team, Drs. Helen Tremlett, Afsaneh Shirani, Joel Oger and others, examined the linked health records of 2656 BC patients between 1985 and 2008 in a retrospective cohort study. The study population included patients with MS who were treated with beta interferons (ß-IFNs), the most widely used treatment for relapse-remitting MS, as well as untreated MS patients. The research team discovered that administration of ß-IFN was not associated with a significant change in the progression of disability.

Researchers are quick to point out that this is just one measure of these disease modifying drugs and there is still potentially significant benefit to patients.

"What this study provides is additional information to patients and clinicians about the longer term effect of this class of drugs," corresponding author, Helen Tremlett, Ph.D., who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Neuroepidemiology and Multiple Sclerosis at UBC, was quoted as saying. "We know that this class of drugs is very helpful in reducing relapses, which can be important to patients. We do not recommend that patients stop taking these medications, but these findings provide evidence, allowing more realistic expectations as to the anticipated benefits associated with drug treatment from the disability perspective."

"It is still possible that some patients gain long-term benefit from ß-IFNs. We are currently working toward identifying who those potential treatment responders might be," Dr. Afsaneh Shirani, who is the first author of the paper and a post-doctoral research fellow in the UBC Faculty of Medicine and Brain Research Centre at UBC and VCH Research Institute, was quoted as saying. "Our study also encourages the investigation of novel treatments for MS."

Relapsing-remitting MS is characterized by relapses or "flare-ups" during which time new symptoms can appear or old ones can resurface or worsen.

"This study following a large number of patients for a long time in "real life situation" does not show an association of the ß-IFNs with long term disability and tends to confirm a more modern way of understanding MS: relapses may not be responsible for long term disability in all patients and another mechanism might be at work as well," Dr. Joel Oger, who is also a neurologist with the UBC Hospital MS Clinic, was quoted as saying.

The research team hopes future studies will help them further examine this and other classes of disease modifying drugs. They hope the research will ultimately lead to an individualized approach to the treatment of MS.

Source: JAMA, July 2012