Late last month, the Federal Drug Administration approved a new drug to treat multiple sclerosis. The drug, called ocrelizumab, is the first FDA-approved drug to treat primary progressive MS, a severe form of multiple sclerosis. It is also approved to help the more common form of the disease known as relapse-remitting.
MS can cause problems with mobility and even paralysis. It occurs when the immune system attacks myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers and allows for communications between the brain and the rest of the body. About 400,000 people in the United States have MS.
The drug works by targeting B-cells. B-cells are the “key policemen” of the immune system, said Dr. Stephen Hauser, Chair of the UCSF Medical Center Department of Neurology, and the lead researcher in the drug’s trials. In MS, these cells also produce the brain inflammation that causes symptoms.
The drug, which will be sold under the brand name Ocrevus by Genentech, showed very promising results in trial, particularly for patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis.
One of these patients was Christina Reyes, an elementary school teacher in Texas, who was diagnosed with the disease at age 15. She is now 42. She has the relapsing form of the disease, and at times has had to use leg braces to walk, or has been confined to a wheelchair.
“There were times when I could not bathe myself. I had to ask my mother to wash my hair. I couldn’t write. I felt drained all the time,” said Reyes.
Reyes joined 1600 others in the Ocrevus trial. After taking part in the trial, she no longer needs her braces or wheelchair. “This is exactly what I wished and hoped and prayed for,” she said.
It was less effective on the primary progressive form of the disease, although it did modestly slow the decline. Medical experts nonetheless described the drug as
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