How It Works
Glatiramer (formerly known as
copolymer-1) is an artificial
protein that resembles a natural myelin protein. It is
not known exactly how the medicine works. But it may help people who have
multiple sclerosis (MS) by preventing the body's
immune system from attacking the myelin coating that
protects nerve fibers.
Glatiramer is given as an injection
beneath the skin one time a day.
Why It Is Used
Glatiramer may be used to
treat people 18 years or older who have
Some people have only one episode of a
neurological symptom such as
optic neuritis. Yet
MRI tests suggest these people have MS. This is known
as a clinically isolated syndrome. Many of these people go on to develop MS
over time. In some cases, doctors will prescribe medicine (either interferon
beta or glatiramer) for people who have had a clinically isolated syndrome.
These medicines, when taken early or even before you have been diagnosed with
MS, may keep the disease from getting worse or extend your time without
How Well It Works
reduces the frequency of
relapses in those who have relapsing-remitting MS. It also
slows the number of new lesions (tissue damage) as seen on MRI and decreases
Glatiramer doesn't cause the flu-like symptoms that interferon medicines can cause.
Glatiramer has not been shown to be
effective for people who have
secondary progressive MS. Also, the medicine is not
helpful for people who have
primary progressive MS.
Some people may have temporary side
effects right after the shot (post-injection reaction), which can
- Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and
shortness of breath similar to that experienced in a
- Tightness in the throat.
These side effects are usually mild and go away on their
own shortly after the injection. You may have one or several brief episodes of
these side effects during your treatment with glatiramer.
Although less common, other side effects may occur, including:
- Severe muscle tension or spasticity.
- Impotence or decreased interest in sex.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug
Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that people with a definite diagnosis of MS and active relapsing disease start treatment with interferon or glatiramer. The group adds that medicine may also be considered after the first attack in some people at high risk for MS but before it is diagnosed.3
The safety of glatiramer during
pregnancy and breast-feeding is not known. Talk to your doctor if you are
planning a pregnancy, if you are pregnant, or if you are breast-feeding.
In addition to side effects, there are some drawbacks to treatment with
- Treatment is not effective at all for some
people. And it is hard to predict whether the medicine will help a particular
- The long-term risks of treatment are unknown. It is
possible that long-term use of the medicine may lower the body's defense
against other diseases. For people with mild MS, the benefits may not be worth
the possible risks.
- Treatment is costly.
If you are taking glatiramer, do not stop taking it
without first talking with your doctor.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Faggiano CM, et al. (2008). Recombinant interferon beta or glatiramer acetate for delaying conversion of the first demyelinating event to multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
Mikol DD, et al. (2008). Comparison of subcutaneous interferon beta-1a with glatiramer acetate in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis (the REbif vs Glatiramer Acetate in Relapsing MS Disease [REGARD] study): A multicentre, randomised, parallel, open-label trial. Lancet Neurology, 7(10): 903-914.
National Clinical Advisory Board of the National
Multiple Sclerosis Society (2007). Disease Management Consensus Statement. New York: National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Available