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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

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Experimental MS Drug Outperforms Standard Treatment

Researchers Say Safety Concerns on Alemtuzumab Have Been Addressed
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 15, 2010 (Toronto) -- Nearly 71% of people with early relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) treated with the experimental MS drug alemtuzumab showed no evidence of disease activity four years into a study, researchers report.

That's twice the percentage of patients treated with the approved treatment, Rebif, says researcher Alasdair Coles, PhD, of the University of Cambridge.

Importantly, some of the safety concerns that emerged earlier in the study appear to have been ironed out, Coles tells WebMD.

According to the National MS Society, relapsing-remitting MS accounts for 85% of people who are first diagnosed with MS.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Alemtuzumab and MS: Safety Concerns Addressed

Three-year results from the study, reported in 2008, also showed that alemtuzumab outperformed Rebif.

But enthusiasm was tempered by the finding that nearly one in four alemtuzumab-treated patients also developed treatment-related thyroid complications. And 3% of the patients developed a potentially life-threatening autoimmune condition, which resulted in the death of one patient.

Coles says that there have been no new cases of the autoimmune condition, known as immune thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP. The rate of thyroid problems among patients treated with alemtuzumab is 28%, similar to that in the third-year review, he says.

All the thyroid and autoimmune problems among the living patients have been successfully treated with standard medications, Coles says.

More importantly, "we answered the big question -- that is, if a patient gets thyroid or ITP, will their MS get worse?" he says.

"It won't. We showed that even if you develop thyroid or ITP, your MS will be treated more effectively with alemtuzumab than with Rebif," Coles says.

An expert not involved with the study urged caution.

The updated results do not "completely alleviate concerns" about the drug's safety, says Aaron Miller MD, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City and chief medical officer of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

"Alemtuzumab is a very promising drug, but this is a phase II trial. Only a phase III trial can really answer the question of a drug's effectiveness and safety," Miller tells WebMD.

Coles says that two phase III trials are under way, with results expected by the end of 2011.

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