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Leukemia Drug Is Highly Effective MS Treatment

Alemtuzumab Lessens Relapses, Improves Disability

1 in 3 Users Develop Autoimmune Disease

In clinical practice, alemtuzumab has most often been used to treat patients who don't respond to other treatments or are no longer responding to them.

Coles says he believes this is how the drug will continue to be used if it is approved as an MS drug in the U.K. and the U.S.

He adds that about 1 in 3 patients who take the drug for MS develop an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid, and about 1 in 100 develop a disorder that involves blood platelets, which are involved in clotting and stopping bleeding.

He says both conditions, while potentially serious, can be easily managed if patients are followed closely.

“Close monitoring is critical because these side effects tend to appear a year or two after treatment, when MS symptoms are often under control and patients want to get on with their lives,” he says.

National MS Society Chief Research Officer Tim Coetzee, PhD, says he does not see this as a big deterrent, since many of the newer drugs for multiple sclerosis also require close monitoring.

“Given the choice between having a treatment that requires aggressive monitoring and not having that treatment at all, I believe that most patients will take the treatment any day of the week,” he says.

Drug’s Cost as MS Treatment in Question

The drug maker Genzyme plans to market alemtuzumab as an MS treatment in the U.S. and Europe, pending approval by government regulators. The drug will not be available to MS patients during the approval process.

In an editorial published with the two studies, editors of the journal Lancet express concerns that the drug will be too expensive for patients and health systems when it is reintroduced as an MS treatment.

“Finding promising treatments such as alemtuzumab is important,” they write. “But so is keeping alemtuzumab accessible and affordable if its early success in these trials proves to be of enduring value.”

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