A drug which is said to “reboot” the immune system has been shown to be an effective treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS), a study has found.
The results of the trials were so encouraging in reducing the number of attacks in those affected that the MS Society is campaigning for the drug to become available on the NHS.
The research showed that alemtuzumab significantly reduced the number of attacks or relapses by people with MS compared to the current drug interferon beta-1a, known commercially as Rebif.
This result was seen both in patients who had not previously received any treatment and those who have continued to show disease activity while taking an existing treatment for MS, the study published in the journal The Lancet found.
In one trial with patients who had recently relapsed, new episodes were reduced by 49% more than that achieved by the current standard treatment.
Over a two-year period, 65% of patients on alemtuzumab compared with 47% of patients on interferon did not relapse.
The study, sponsored by Genzyme and Bayer Schering Pharma, found that alemtuzumab also reduced the risk of acquiring disability by 42% compared with interferon.
At the end of the study, on average, patients taking alemtuzumab had less disability than when they started the trial whereas those on interferon had experienced worsening disability.
“Our research shows the transformative effect that alemtuzumab can have for people with MS,” Professor Alastair Compston from the University of Cambridge, who was principal investigator of the research, said.
“Patients who continue to show disease activity while on their initial therapy are especially difficult to treat.
“Now, we have shown that alemtuzumab works where first-line drugs have already failed.
“It not only reduces the chances of disability associated with MS but may even result in long-term clinical improvements.”
Doug Brown, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, welcomed the results.
“These results are great news for people with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis,” Dr Brown said.
“Alemtuzumab has been found to be an effective treatment for people with MS - but it’s only useful to them if it’s available on the NHS.
“We urge Genzyme to price the treatment responsibly so that if it’s licensed, it’s deemed cost effective on the NHS.”
- Alemtuzumab for multiple sclerosis. The Lancet. Early Online Publication, 1 November 2012.