Treatment May Delay MS Symptoms in People at High Risk: Study

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April 20, 2023 – Researchers have identified a treatment that could delay the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, which could be helpful for people who have brain imaging that uncovers early signs of the debilitating disease.

Giving a drug called teriflunomide to people who have a typical MS precursor diagnosis called radiologically isolated syndrome (RIS) lowered the risk of having first-time MS symptoms by 72%, compared to people with RIS who took a placebo pill. (RIS is a condition where brain and spinal cord abnormalities resemble those found in MS patients, but no symptoms are present.)

The findings will be presented during next week’s American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting in Boston. The study included 89 people diagnosed with RIS, half of whom took the experimental treatment. Participants were followed for 2 years.

In people with MS, the body’s immune system attacks myelin, the fatty white substance that insulates and protects the nerves. Symptoms of MS include fatigue, numbness, tingling, and difficulty walking. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates there are nearly 1 million people in the U.S. with the disease.

About half of people with RIS go on to develop MS within 10 years, according to the MS Society.

In the study, eight people who took the drug developed MS within 2 years, compared to 20 people who took the placebo. MS is an incurable disease, although there are many treatments to manage symptoms, recover from attacks, and slow progression. According to the Mayo Clinic, teriflunomide is used by MS patients to reduce the relapse rate. Risks of taking it include liver damage, hair loss, and causing birth defects.

“With more and more people having brain scans for various reasons, such as headache or head trauma, more of these cases are being discovered, and many of these people go on to develop MS,” said study author Christine Lebrun Frenay, MD, PhD, of the University Hospital of Nice in France, in a statement. “The sooner a person can be treated for MS, the greater the chances of delaying damage to the myelin, which decreases the risk of permanent neurologic impairment and debilitating symptoms.”

Researchers said a larger study is needed to confirm the preliminary findings. This latest research received funding from Sanofi, the company that makes teriflunomide.