The Cost of MS

Multiple sclerosis drugs may not be cost effective

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There is no denying that healthcare in the U.S. has become expensive. For some multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, the cost of new drugs may not be worth the price.

MS patients who took disease-modifying drugs - drugs that change the course of MS instead of just treating symptoms - had a small improvement to their health. At the same time, the cost of those drugs was more than eight times higher than what is thought to be "reasonable."

"Make sure you're getting your money's worth on MS drugs."

Even if disease-modifying drugs are helpful to some MS patients, those benefits come at an extremely high economic cost, says Katia Noyes, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study.

MS is a disease that comes in cycles. There are periods in which patients have no symptoms, followed by periods in which patients struggle with weak muscles, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, and trouble walking, seeing, and speaking.

Disease-modifying drugs - which include Avonex (interferon beta-1a), Copaxone (glatiramer acetate), and Novantrone (mitoxantrone) among others - have been shown in large studies to slow down MS. These drugs have also been shown to lower the risk of relapses, or those points when MS symptoms reappear.

Even though disease-modifying drugs help MS patients, they have many side effects and are very expensive. In fact, they can cost up to $30,000 per year.

For their study, Noyes and her fellow researchers used a method called quality-adjusted life years (QALY) to measure the health effects of disease-modifying drugs. QALY helps researchers understand how much a patient's quality of life has improved after taking a certain medication or getting a particular treatment.

Generally, a drug is thought to be cost-effective if it costs $100,000 or less to increase one QALY. Noyes and colleagues found that disease-modifying drugs for MS cost over $800,000 per QALY.

According to Noyes, these findings suggest that the health care community needs to regularly assess the cost-effectiveness of new treatments. Doing so could help control growing cost of health care in the United States.

As the authors of the study point out, the cost of disease-modifying drugs in the United States is 67 percent higher than it is in countries like Britain, Canada, and Germany. Noyes says that bringing the price of these drugs down to what they are in other industrialized countries would make the health gains from those drugs much more worth the cost.

The researchers came to these conclusions using data from a survey paid for by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. They calculated the health care costs (medications, hospital admissions, out-patient vistas, diagnostic testing, and home and long-term care) associated with MS patients taking disease-modifying drugs over a 10-year period. The researchers compared these costs to the costs of health care for MS patients who received other basic treatments. On top of calculating these more obvious costs, the researchers also included the costs of lost productivity - such as interruptions to work or school.

The results of the study are published in the journal Neurology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 21, 2011
Last Updated:
September 18, 2011