July 21, 2011

MS Drugs May Come At A Cost With Little Effectiveness

According to a new study, drugs used in the hope of slowing multiple sclerosis progression may come at a high cost for some patients who choose to use them.

The medications in question are considered disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) that have been available since the 1990s to treat multiple sclerosis.

The drugs include beta interferons, glatiramer and natalizumab.  They are given by injection or infusion and can prevent MS symptom flare-ups and delay long-term disability from the disease.

However, the price tag for each drug costs $3,000 a month in the U.S.

The new study estimates that people who use the medications for a decade would get a modest health benefit for the money.

The researchers say that patients would gain an extra two months or less of good health over 10 years, compared with using only therapies that help ease MS symptoms.

The study estimated that DMDs cost close to $1 million for each year of relatively healthy life a person with MS could expect to gain with 10 years of use.

Common thresholds used to define a "cost-effective" treatment range between $50,000 and $150,000 for each good-quality year of life gained.

Katia Noyes, a researcher at the University of Rochester in New York who led the study, said the findings do not mean that people with MS should not try taking the drugs.

"This study was not designed to try to deprive people with MS of any therapy," Noyes told Reuters.

She said she did not intend to tell doctors what to prescribe or insurance companies what to pay for.

Noyes also said studies need to look at the value of different medical therapies, and what factors seem to affect their cost-effectiveness for patients overall.

The researchers believe that starting the drugs before any noticeable disability makes the medications more cost-effective.

"The main benefit of these drugs is in the long-term," she told Reuters. "That may be 10 or 20 years down the road."

The study was published in the journal Neurology, which is the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.


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