MS Drug Misses a Goal

Multiple sclerosis medication reduces relapses but not disability

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

(RxWiki News) Making a drug that works to fight several parts of a disease can be hard, especially for a mysterious illness like multiple sclerosis (MS). This is a problem that drugmaker Sanofi is currently dealing with.

In a recent clinical trial, MS patients who took the drug Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) were 55 percent less likely to have a relapse of MS symptoms, compared to those who took Rebif (interferon beta-1a). However, Lemtrada did not keep patients from becoming disabled.

"A new MS drug may reduce relapses more than an older drug."

Rebif is one of the leading drugs for treating a type of MS that is prone to relapse. In a phase 3 clinical trial, researchers were trying to see if the drug Lemtrada could do better than Rebif at reducing the relapse episodes and slowing down the time it takes for a patient to become disabled.

The researchers found that Lemtrada met the first goal: patients taking the drug were less likely to suffer a relapse than those taking Rebif. Yet, Lemtrada was not much better than Rebif at postponing the onset of disability.

According to Christopher A. Viehbacher, chief executive officer at Sanofi, these results are an important part of the process to make Lemtrada a drug that addresses many of the unmet needs of MS patients.

A total of 581 MS people participated in this phase 3 clinical trial. With the exception of steroids, none of the participants had ever received drug treatment for their condition.

After taking either Lemtrada or Rebif over the course of two years, participants taking Lemtrada reduced their risk of relapse by 55 percent, compared to those taking Rebif. However, long-term disability was nearly as common in Lemtrada patients as it was in Rebif patients (8 percent versus 11 percent, respectively).

The study also showed that Lemtrada was just as safe as past studies had shown. The most common side effects included headache, rash, fever, nausea, flushing, hives and chills. Some patients got upper respiratory and urinary tract infections as well as oral herpes. However, none of these infections were life threatening.

Lemtrada is still going through other clinical trials. Sanofi expects to try for U.S. and E.U. approval for the treatment of MS in 2012.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 12, 2011
Last Updated:
July 16, 2011