An antibody approved 20 years ago to treat leukemia was proved in two large clinical trials to be the best therapy yet for multiple sclerosis.
Certain immune cells cause MS by attacking nerve cells. The drug works by temporarily destroying those immune cells. When they grow back, they no longer attack other cells. “It’s like rebooting a computer,” says Alasdair Coles from the University of Cambridge, who led one of the trials.
In both the two-year trials, the drug, Alemtuzumab, outperformed the current standard treatment for the condition, called interferon beta-1a. “They are the best results in terms of effectiveness that have been seen in multiple sclerosis with any drug,” says Coles.
He says that the number of disease relapses was around 50 per cent lower than in people on the standard drug. Brain scans showed that people taking Alemtuzumab had 50 per cent fewer brain lesions than those on the standard treatment, and the rate of brain shrinkage – typically 2 per cent per year in people with MS compared with 0.5 per cent in healthy people – was restored to normal.
Sanofi, Based in Paris, France, which manufactures Alemtuzumab under the trade name Lemtrada, has applied for approval for the new indication in the US and Europe.
For the past decade, Alemtuzumab has been used “off label” for MS, The new clinical studies promise a wider use of the new medication.