Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ocrevus: Prominent MS Clinic Issues Cautionary Statement


On March 28, 2017, the new MS drug Ocrevus was approved for both relapsing MS and progressive MS, becoming the first drug to achieve FDA approval for the progressive form of the disease.

One of the nation's leading multiple sclerosis clinics, the International Multiple Sclerosis Management Practice (IMSMP), today published a statement on their website regarding Ocrevus and its possible link to cancer and opportunistic infections (click here). Here is the clinic's statement in full:

Ocrelizumab (OCREVUS™), an anti-B cell therapy has been approved by the FDA as of March 28th 2017, for the treatment of Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) and primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). This treatment is highly effective for RRMS, based on the data from the Phase III clinical studies. It is also the first drug approved for use in PPMS. At IMSMP/TISCH we have used Rituximab, a similar anti-B cell treatment, for the past 16 years with great success. It is because of the effectiveness of this therapy (Rituximab) we were able to persuade Medicare to cover the costs of this therapy in New York.

Rituximab, however, is NOT approved by the FDA for use in MS. At our center we use it as an off-label drug. This unfortunately can require several weeks to obtain approval from insurance carriers and often approval may be denied.

Therefore, the approval by the FDA of Ocrelizumab, which should have almost identical anti-B cell activity to Rituximab, appears to be good news for MS patients. However, there are some serious concerns with Ocrelizumab that patients need to be made aware before they consider this therapy. First, in the RRMS trial, there were 9 patients who developed various malignancies within three years of taking Ocrelizumab (4 patients within the first 2 years and 5 patients in the following year). This is alarmingly high considering that these patients were mostly in their third decade of life and had no previous history of cancer. In the trial for PPMS patients, 13 patients developed cancer within the three years of taking Ocrelizumab (11 in the first two years and 2 additional cases in the following year). This means that more than 1 in 50 patients developed cancer within three years of taking Ocrelizumab among the PPMS patients. These risks of malignancy associated with Ocrelizumab are not seen with Rituximab (more than a thousand patients just at our center since 2001 and several hundred thousand worldwide). This risk of cancer with Ocrelizumab is not explained at present and the magnitude of the problem cannot be defined, as the medication has not been given for a period longer than 3 years.

There are also additional concerns with Ocrelizumab, such as the risk of life threatening infections which caused the trials in patients with Rheumatoid arthritis and SLE to be halted in 2010.

Although, it is indeed progress that the first medication for PPMS has been approved, the patients should be fully informed of its’ potential risks. For patients who can obtain Rituximab, it would be safer to continue with this therapy, until with time, we are better able to advise patients about the risks associated with Ocrelizumab.

The IMSMP is the clinic at which I receive my MS care, and I am personally acquainted with all of the medical professionals who work there. I know firsthand that the staff is wholly dedicated to the well-being of MS patients and that they wouldn't issue such a statement without diligent consideration.

Having said that, in the interest of fairness, I reached out to Genentech, the makers of Ocrevus, for a statement on the IMSMPs comments on their drug.  I received the following response from Genentech spokesperson Kimberly Muscara:

The FDA approved Ocrevus as an important new medicine for people with relapsing forms of MS and the first and only treatment for people with primary progressive MS. Genentech encourages healthcare providers to prescribe medicines as per their label and indication, and as a company we cannot comment on off-label usage. As you know, Rituxan is not an FDA approved medicine for multiple sclerosis and has not been rigorously investigated in Phase III clinical trials.  

Additionally, Rituxan and Ocrevus are different molecules in structure and how they interact with the immune system. 

In controlled clinical trials, there was an imbalance in malignancy. An increased risk may exist. The incidence of malignancy was within background rates, and to date continued follow-up in the open-label extension study has not shown increased risk of malignancy with longer time on Ocrevus. Patient safety is very important to us at Genentech and we are committed to conducting long-term post-approval safety studies on Ocrevus.

Muscara also noted that some patients have been on Ocrevus longer than three years, as enrollment in the phase III trial started in 2011 and a number of patients have remained on the drug in extension studies. It should also be noted that Ocrevus is the first anti-B cell therapy approved for use in MS, and that the research that led to the drug has profoundly shifted the thinking of many MS researchers.

In the days since Ocrevus received FDA approval, I've seen and read countless articles and reports in the mainstream media heralding the drug as the latest medical miracle. While Ocrevus may indeed prove to be a major step forward in the treatment of MS, there are legitimate reasons to exercise discretion when considering this new drug. I'd urge all patients to have well-informed conversations with their neurologists before embarking on any new MS treatment. Each MS patient has their own set of priorities and tolerance for risk. What is completely unacceptable for one patient may be well within another's comfort zone.

I wrote a thorough review of the complicated history of Ocrevus (click here), and also conducted a lengthy interview with one of the drug's researchers, Dr. Peter Chin (click here). I hope that patients can glean valuable information from both of these articles.

Remember, the patient-doctor relationship MUST be a partnership, not a dictatorship, especially when it involves a chronic progressive illness such as multiple sclerosis. Arriving at any treatment decision is a multifactorial process, and as patients suffering from a potentially devastating disease we owe it to ourselves to fully participate in all decisions related to our ultimate well-being. Knowledge is power, my friends, use it wisely.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ocrevus Approved by FDA for Relapsing MS and Progressive MS

The new MS drug Ocrevus (generic name ocrelizumab) was approved today for use in patients with both relapsing multiple sclerosis AND progressive multiple sclerosis (click here). Ocrevus is the first drug to receive FDA approval for the treatment of progressive multiple sclerosis, thus representing a milestone in the history of MS treatments.

While this is exciting news for people with progressive MS, it's important that patients keep their expectations reasonable and in line with what was shown in the Ocrevus clinical trials. Ocrevus could very well prove to be the most effective relapsing MS drug available when it hits the market (which should be in about 2 weeks); it will be the only FDA approved MS drug for progressive MS when it hits the shelves. Based on the Ocrevus progressive MS trial results, some patients may expect to see a slowing of their disease progression by about 25%. There is some reason to believe that the drug will work best on patients with enhancing lesions on their MRIs. While this is not nearly the kind of momentous intervention all patients with progressive MS crave, it is a start, and one would expect to see an increase in research for this type of MS as other pharmaceutical companies race to get competing drugs on the market.

I've reposted a commentary on Ocrevus I wrote back in January, after interviewing one of the lead researchers on the drug, Dr. Peter Chin. I would encourage all readers with an interest in Ocrevus to read my commentary (click here) and the interview with Dr. Chin (click here). Both include important info for patients considering taking this drug.

As long-time readers of Wheelchair Kamikaze are undoubtedly aware, I've often been skeptical when it comes to MS drugs. However, I owe it to myself and my readers to go where the science takes me, and there is an ever increasing body of evidence that the newer generation of immunosuppressive MS drugs do positively impact the course of the disease, sometimes dramatically. Many of them do carry with them a list of serious and sometimes fatal potential side effects, and as always a frank discussion with your neurologist is mandatory when considering the risk/reward ratio before beginning any drug treatment. Let's hope that with time Ocrevus shows itself to be even more effective than was demonstrated in its clinical trials, and that its safety profile proves robust.

Wishing all WK readers and those who love them the realization of their fondest dreams…

Ocrevus Commentary: A New MS Drug With Breakthrough Potential And A Complicated History.

(What follows is my analysis of the potential promises and pitfalls associated with the new MS drug Ocrevus (Ocrelizumab). For those who have not already done so, I urge you to read – or at least scan – the interview I conducted with Dr. Peter Chin, one of the pioneering researchers who worked on this drug. Dr. Chin is the Group Medical Director of Neuroscience at the pharmaceutical company that makes ocrelizumab, Genentech – click here for the interview)

Ocrevus, a new MS drug which was approved by the FDA on March 28, 2017, has garnered breathless headlines in both the mainstream and medical press as a breakthrough medicine which has the potential to change the MS treatment landscape. Particularly heralded is the drug’s success in clinical studies in treating Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS), a pernicious subtype of MS that currently has no approved therapies.

Assessing the overall potential of Ocrevus is more difficult than with most new drugs, as the therapy has a complicated history that must be considered when synthesizing informed views about it. Ocrevus, which will be marketed under the brand name Ocrevus, is a close sibling of the much older drug Rituxan (rituximab), whose mechanism of action Ocrevus closely mirrors. Rituximab, which is manufactured by the same company that makes Ocrevus, is already being used in many parts of the world as an effective MS therapy, even though it was never officially approved for this purpose. The reasons why Ocrevus rather than rituximab was advanced in studies as an MS therapy are somewhat controversial; complicating matters further are Ocrevus’s failure in trials for use in treating other autoimmune diseases (lupus and rheumatoid arthritis). Therefore, when attempting to make a sober assessment of Ocrevus, one must look not only at the drug itself, but also at how it currently came to be on the verge of FDA approval.

First, let’s look at Ocrevus itself, in terms of how the drug works and what recent clinical trials reveal about its effectiveness in the treatment of both relapsing and primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

Ocrevus is the first B cell therapy for MS proven to be effective in late stage clinical trials. In very simplistic terms, the human immune system is comprised chiefly of 2 types of cells, T cells and B cells, which each use different mechanisms to attack and kill invading bacteria or viruses. Until very recently, the vast majority of MS researchers, who see MS as an autoimmune disease in which the immune system turns against the body’s own cells, considered the multiple sclerosis disease process to be driven almost exclusively by T cells. MS drugs such as Tysabri and Gilenya were designed to specifically target these cells. B cells were given short shrift, and were largely dismissed as having no real relevance in the MS disease process.

The success of Ocrevus – a drug which destroys B cells – in treating MS has upended these prior assumptions and has forced researchers to rethink their multiple sclerosis disease models. In clinical trials, Ocrevus, an intravenous drug administered approximately every 6 months, proved to be remarkably effective in treating relapsing multiple sclerosis, and even had a modest effect on PPMS. Let’s look at the actual trial results.

Two separate trials were conducted testing Ocrevus against the interferon drug Rebif in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis. These two trials were called OPERA 1 and OPERA 2 (click here). Both two-year trials involved one group of patients taking Ocrevus and another taking the interferon drug Rebif, and comparisons were made as to the overall effectiveness of Ocrevus versus the interferon drug. The results were very impressive. Compared to the Rebif treated patients, the Ocrevus trial subjects experienced a reduction in relapse rates of 46% and 47% in the two trials. Additionally, there was a 40% reduction in confirmed disability progression and a 95% reduction in new enhancing lesions. These results rival or surpass any of the other MS drugs currently on the market. There were no significant differences in the number of adverse events (bad side effects) between the Ocrevus and Rebif treated patient populations in the relapsing multiple sclerosis trials.

The Ocrevus PPMS trial was named ORATORIO (click here). This trial lasted 2 ½ years, and randomly assigned 732 patients in a 2 to 1 ratio to receive either Ocrevus or a placebo. In other words, twice as many trial subjects received Ocrevus than received placebo. The highlight of this study was that the Ocrevus treated patients experienced a 25% reduction in time to progression when compared to their placebo-controlled counterparts. Specifically, 29.6% of Ocrevus treated patients and 35.7% of placebo treated patients experienced a measure of disability progression over the course of the study. This is the first time in a placebo-controlled scientific trial that any multiple sclerosis drug has displayed effectiveness in slowing down the progression of disability in Primary Progressive patients. Ocrevus also displayed efficacy over placebo in a number of other outcome measures as well, including the timed 25 foot walk.

As I discussed with Dr. Chin during our interview, it’s important to understand that Ocrevus did not reverse or even stop the progression of disability in trial subjects. It slowed progression by about 25%. What does this mean for patients in a real-world setting? Well, speaking strictly in a broadly hypothetical basis, if an individual PPMS patient left untreated might need a cane four years after diagnosis, that same patient, if responsive to Ocrevus, might not need a cane for five years. Again, this is strictly a hypothetical case; PPMS effects patients in widely varying degrees of severity. Additionally, the ORATORIO trial only lasted 2 and half years. How the drug's effectiveness manifests over longer periods of time is not yet understood.

Unlike the relapsing multiple sclerosis Ocrevus trials, the PPMS trial did reveal some potentially troubling adverse events. Opportunistic infections (mostly respiratory infections and oral herpes) were more common in Ocrevus than placebo, and the rate of cancer in Ocrevus treated patients was approximately 3 times that found in placebo treated patients, 2.3% versus 0.8%. Though Genentech says that no direct causal relationship between the cancers in Ocrevus treated patients could be established, the fact that slightly more than 1 in 50 trial subjects on the drug developed cancer is sure to raise eyebrows, but since similar cancer rates were not seen in the relapsing multiple sclerosis trials these numbers are surely open to question.

There are also some concerns regarding the design ORATORIO study. Back in the mid-2000’s, Genentech conducted a PPMS trial using rituximab, which at first was deemed a failure. Later review of the trial data revealed, though, that a subset of PPMS patients did appear to gain benefit from rituximab therapy (click here). These patients were generally younger than 50 years old, were less disabled, and had enhancing lesions on their MRIs. It’s generally thought that patients fitting this description account for between 10%-15% of the overall PPMS population. The Ocrevus PPMS trial, though, included about 26% of patients fitting this profile, or approximately double that seen among real-life PPMSer’s. This means that the ORATORIO trial was heavily weighted with patients who were likely to respond to Ocrevus, since the drug acts in much the same way as rituximab. The Ocrevus PPMS trial was not designed to discern differences in the effectiveness of the drug between patients with enhancing lesions and those without, but Genentech says there was a “directional consistency” to the trial results, suggesting that the drug was effective in all patient subgroups to one degree or another. Still, the fact that the trial was frontloaded with likely responders is another eyebrow raiser, and may be something that the FDA looks at when making its approval decisions.

Okay, now that we’ve looked at the Ocrevus MS trials themselves, let’s dive into the history of the drug. Back in the early 2000’s, some MS researchers began investigating whether therapies that destroy B cells might be effective in treating MS. As mentioned earlier, at the time this with a rather radical idea. The drug that was chosen for study was Rituxan (whose generic name is rituximab – click here), a drug developed by Genentech years earlier that had been approved in 1997 for use in fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain types of leukemia. Rituximab, like Ocrevus, works by zeroing in on a protein found on most types of B cells, called CD20, and then killing the cells on which this protein is located. Though both drugs target and kill B cells, they do so in slightly different ways, and these differences may result in variances in safety and efficacy. Think of the drugs as two hitmen; one likes to slit his victims throats, the other prefers to strangle them. Both get the job done, but their differing killing techniques might effect witnesses differently. In the case of Ocrevus and rituximab, these differences may effect the actions of other immune cells, thus accounting for possible differences in the safety and efficacy of the drugs.

In the mid-2000’s, MS researchers put rituximab to the test by using it in “proof of concept” trials in patients with RRMS and PPMS. When the trial results were revealed in 2008, the drug proved itself to be extremely effective in treating relapsing remitting MS, but not effective in treating PPMS (click here and here). It’s important to note that the RRMS trials were small, early stage trials, but the PPMS trial was larger and later stage. As mentioned earlier, later parsing of the PPMS data did reveal a subgroup of patients on whom the drug appeared to have some positive effect.

Given the success of the rituximab RRMS trials, the fact that a subset of the PPMS trial population appeared to benefit from the drug, and rituximab’s long history as a successful oncology drug, it’s reasonable to assume that the drug would have been greenlighted for further development as an MS treatment. Instead, all development of rituximab as an MS treatment was halted, and the focus shifted instead to Ocrevus, a new experimental Genentech product that also targeted B cells via the CD20 protein. While there is some perfectly valid scientific rationale for this choice, many facts and circumstances point to financial motivations playing an oversized role in the decision to advance Ocrevus rather than rituximab as a potential treatment for MS.

The scientific rationale for choosing to proceed with Ocrevus is that the drug is comprised primarily of human proteins (the drug is a “humanized” monoclonal antibody), while rituximab contains a mix of mouse and human proteins (making it a “chimeric” monoclonal antibody, meaning that it contains proteins from more than one species). Theoretically, a humanized molecule should be better tolerated by patients than a chimeric drug, especially when used for treating chronic diseases which require continued administrations of the drug. That said, rituximab did have a very good safety profile in its role as an oncology drug, and very few adverse effects were seen in the early rituximab MS trials.

Genentech’s financial motivations for switching from rituximab to Ocrevus were many. First and foremost was the fact that rituximab was due to come off patent in 2015, meaning that other drugmakers would be free to come in and market their own versions of the drug at that time. As Ocrevus is a brand-new product, Genentech will have exclusive rights on it for decades to come. In addition, several corporate partnerships were also at play which made Ocrevus the preferred candidate for further development. Here’s an explanation of the situation, from an article that appeared on the biotech industry news site Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News in 2010 (click here). Keep in mind that Roche is the parent company of Genentech:

“The operating profits for Rituxan are currently split 60–40 between Roche and Biogen Idec, respectively. But profits for Ocrevus would be split 70–30 in Genentech's favor, accounting for Genentech’s enthusiasm to move ahead with the development of Ocrevus in MS, at the expense of Rituxan, which loses patent protection in 2015.”

Of course, there is no direct proof that the switch from Rituxan to Ocrevus was driven primarily by financial considerations (except, perhaps, in files tucked away in the executive offices at Genentech), but I’ve learned through my years researching and writing about these topics that one can never be too jaded in assessing the motivations of the upper echelon decision-makers of Big Pharma. These are publicly traded companies whose officers are, by law, mandated to be beholden to their shareholders, not to the patients taking their products. Welcome to the realities of the medical industrial complex, in which diseases have been transformed into multibillion-dollar a year industries.

Whatever the circumstances, plans for further studies into the use of rituximab in treating MS were abandoned, and early trials using Ocrevus to treat MS were initiated. In addition to the MS trials, Ocrevus trials were also started on patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus erythematosus (LE). It’s interesting to note that rituximab was approved for use in treating rheumatoid arthritis in 2007, and has been used effectively and safely in that role since then (click here).

Genentech’s grand plans for Ocrevus were almost completely disrupted in 2010, when the trials in RA and lupus were halted due to patient deaths and the occurrence of opportunistic infections (click here ). In the parlance of medical research, the risk versus benefit analysis in these trials did not warrant further study. In the parlance of everyday people, dead patients suck. It should be noted that patients in the Ocrevus rheumatoid arthritis trial were also taking other immunosuppressive drugs, but then again so are most of the patients who have been using rituximab to treat their RA since its approval in 2007.

Ocrevus studies in MS were continued because these disastrous infections and patient deaths were not seen in early Ocrevus MS trials, and also because it’s generally assumed that MS patients and their doctors have a higher tolerance for risk due to the potentially catastrophic nature of the disease (click here). This assumption is borne out by the MS community’s acceptance of drugs like Tysabri, which has a proven link to the deadly brain infection PML. Hundreds of MS patients have contracted this infection due to their taking Tysabri. Other MS drugs, such as Gilenya and Tecfidera, have also been linked to opportunistic infections such as PML. MS certainly isn’t a disease for the faint of heart.

In the years since the rituximab MS studies were shelved by Genentech, MS neurologists have been using the drug on an “off label” basis due to the obvious potential of the drug displayed in those early trials. “Off label” refers to the fact that doctors are free to prescribe any FDA approved drug for any indication whatsoever, even if the drug has not been approved for that purpose (click here). Many MS neurologists here in the USA as well as in Europe have been using rituximab to treat MS patients safely and effectively for years. The use of rituximab in MS is especially prevalent in Sweden, and a recent study out of that country that took a retrospective look at MS patients treated with rituximab found that the drug was startlingly effective and had an excellent safety profile (click here). As noted earlier, rituximab has also proven safe and effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis. Remember, the RA trials for Ocrevus had to be halted due to opportunistic infections and patient deaths.

It should be noted that over its 20-year history rituximab has been linked to some cases of PML, but to a far lesser degree than drugs like Tysabri. In rheumatoid arthritis patients, it appears the rate of PML in Rituxan treated patients is on the order of 1 in 25,000 (click here). Rituximab has also been linked to other opportunistic infections, but again, at a lower rate than is seen in most other MS drugs. Let’s face it, any drug that profoundly changes the highly evolved human immune system is bound to open patients up to infections they wouldn’t otherwise contract. Ocrevus and rituximab both destroy B cells, one of the major components of the human immune system. No one knows what the long-term effects of living without any B cells might be. We do know, though, that the long-term effects of living with MS can be harrowing. Such is the state of the current MS treatment paradigm.

In conclusion, while the excitement generated by the impending approval of Ocrevus for relapsing multiple sclerosis and primary progressive multiple sclerosis is certainly warranted, expectations, especially for those with PPMS, should be kept realistic. Ocrevus will likely slow the rate of disability progression for some progressive MS patients, and even though this isn’t the revolutionary change patients battling PPMS are so fervently hoping for, it is a start. Relapsing multiple sclerosis patients can expect Ocrevus to be among the most effective disease modifying drugs on the market.

The fact that rituximab, a very similar drug with a proven record of efficacy and safety, is an available and very viable option should play into treatment decisions, as should the failed Ocrevus trials in RA and lupus, and the increased cancer rates seen in the Ocrevus PPMS trials (again, these rates could be aberrations). These factors need not make patients shy away from Ocrevus, but there is every reason to explore them with your neurologist. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor why they might favor one drug over another. This holds true when deciding on any MS treatment. Remember, the doctor-patient relationship should never be a dictatorship, but a partnership. Here’s to hoping that Ocrevus proves itself worthy of the buzz it’s generated in advance of its anticipated FDA approval.

And here’s to more desperate hoping that MS researchers soon come up with methods other than profoundly kneecapping the human immune system in their search for ways to treat MS.

Monday, March 27, 2017

MS Research Roundup-HSCT, Ocrevus, MS Blood Test, and More

Longtime Wheelchair Kamikaze readers will remember that I used to post articles comprised of veritable potpourris of MS related info on a fairly regular basis, and that I’d title those posts “Bits and Pieces”. I’ve kind of fallen down on the job in that regard lately, but over the last month or so a bunch of MS research related articles caught my eye, so I figured I compile them here. Came up with the snappy and uber-original title “MS Research Roundup” since any readers new to the blog wouldn’t know what in tarnation I was talking about with the “Bits and Pieces” rigmarole. And what’s the use of a rigmarole if people find it befuddling? A befuddling rigmarole defeats the whole purpose of rigmaroles, and that would put me and my readers in a quandary wrapped in a conundrum. Who the hell needs that?

So, without any further bandying about willy-nilly, here are some items I hope you find of interest:

♦ First up, a bit of self-congratulations. The UK-based website Stairlift Reviews (click here) has named Wheelchair Kamikaze one of the 100 Best Blogs for Disabled People and Carers. Much thanks to them, and I must say they’ve done a really good job compiling the list as there are lots of really, really good blogs on there. Pretty sure Wheelchair Kamikaze got in by way of clerical error.

♦ Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) has its much awaited date with destiny on March 28, as it goes up before the FDA for approval. The new MS drug was originally scheduled for FDA review this past December, but the review was delayed due to manufacturing issues. Ocrevus is up for approval for the treatment of both relapsing MS and progressive MS, and if approved for the latter would be the first drug on the market for this form of the disease. Based on the trial results, I’d say the odds of the FDA giving the drug the go-ahead are excellent, especially for relapsing MS. I’d say Ocrevus has at least a 90% chance of approval for relapsing MS. Probably closer to 95%, as a rejection for this form of the disease would really be a shock given the robust trial results. Things aren’t quite as sure for progressive MS, but I’d still peg the odds of approval here at about 70%. I’d say there is probably a 20% chance that the drug is only approved for progressive patients who have enhancing lesions, and a 10% chance that it is rejected outright, most likely because of the higher cancer rates seen versus placebo in the progressive MS trials. I’ll put up a quick post on these pages after the results of the FDA review are announced on Tuesday.

♦ HSCT, the type of stem cell therapy that first wipes out the immune system using chemotherapy drugs and then reboots it by way of bone marrow transplant, has once again been making waves. The results of two trials were recently released, both showing that the treatment is remarkably effective in completely shutting down the disease for years long periods of time in many patients. In one 24 person trial, comprised exclusively of RRMS patients and sponsored by the National Institutes Of Health, 69% of trial subjects experienced no MS progression, relapses, or central nervous system lesions 5 years after undergoing HSCT (click here). Some of them even regained lost function. Pretty damned impressive.

A second study looked at the long-term results of HSCT using retrospective data gleaned from 25 treatment centers around the world (click here). The study looked at 281 patients treated between 1995 in 2006, and found that just under half of the treated patients showed no sign of progression 5 years after treatment. The patient population looked at in this study was about 70% progressive MS patients (the overwhelming majority of these SPMS), which accounts for its lower rate of efficacy than the smaller NIH sponsored study cited above.

Through some physician friends of mine I was able to get my hands on a copy of the actual paper, which revealed that when the numbers were broken down according to disease subtype, 73% of RRMS patients, 33% of SPMS patients, and less than 20% of PPMS patients were progression free after 5 years. It should be noted that there were very few PPMS patients included in this study (only 24 out of the original 281 trial subjects, and only one PPMS patient was tracked through 5 years). The authors of the study conclude by saying that these results warrant serious further trials of HSCT as first-line or second-line treatment in “patients with highly active relapsing MS… Furthermore, our results raise the question whether HSCT may attenuate the progression of disability in patients with progressive forms of MS, a possibility that is more plausible in patients with MRI evidence of central nervous system inflammatory activity before transplant.” Evidence of “central nervous system inflammatory activity” means enhancing lesions as seen on an MRI, and many other HSCT studies have also concluded that the treatment works best on patients exhibiting these types of lesions.

The results of these 2 studies further strengthen the case for the use of HSCT in MS patients who have enhancing lesions. It is beyond absurd that over 20 years since the testing of HSCT on MS patients started, we still haven’t had an actual placebo-controlled trial on what appears to be a highly effective treatment, perhaps the most effective MS treatment to date. This probably has to do with the fact that the pharmaceutical companies can’t make gazillions of dollars on HSCT, since the drugs used to knock out the immune system are all older drugs that have come off patent. Combine this with the fact that HSCT puts patients into long-term remission for years at a time, during which they have no use for the hyper expensive MS drugs marketed by the pharmaceutical companies, and the reasons why HSCT remains understudied becomes a bit less cloudy. MS patients and those who love them deserve more.

I’m working on getting an interview with a prominent HSCT researcher, so hopefully I’ll be able to bring some “straight from the horse’s mouth” info to Wheelchair Kamikaze sometime soon.

♦ For those interested in the history of multiple sclerosis, here’s really good article entitled “The Story of Multiple Sclerosis And Its Major Milestones” (click here). Lots of fascinating stuff here, including the fact that in the 19th century MS was often treated with bloodletting, leeches to the temple, an all meat diet, arsenic, or injections of silver or gold. Heck, if someone showed me some halfway convincing proof that any of these treatments were of use in treating my non-inflammatory progressive MS, I’d go for it in a heartbeat. Leeches to the temple? Bring. Them. On. Couldn’t be any less effective than all of the other crap I’ve tried in the 14 years since my diagnosis, and at least for a little while I’d have a couple of new pets.

♦ Looks like a blood test that will diagnose MS is going to be released in May, 2017 (click here). Not sure why this hasn’t been major news, since if this is true it’s a really big deal. Multiple sclerosis is notoriously hard to diagnose, with many patients waiting months if not years to get a definitive diagnosis. Damn, I’ve had this thing for at least 14 years and the doctors still aren’t sure if it’s actually MS. According to this article, the blood test is supposed to be 90% accurate. The test looks at a patient’s RNA and genetic profile to make it disease determination. I’ll have to do more poking around on this…

♦ Finally, here’s a New York Times article from 2016 detailing just how misleading some of the prescription drug TV commercials can be (click here). This article focuses on the drug Opdivo, which is targeted at a form of lung cancer. It’s hard to miss the Opdivo commercials here in The States. I’m sure many if not all of the yanks reading this post know exactly which ads I’m talking about. They are the ones that show hearty looking cancer patients staring joyfully up at claims of the drug’s effectiveness projected on the buildings of a big city. Turns out that Opdivo only works in about one in five Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer patients, and in those patients it extends life for about 11 months. Of course, an extra 11 months for a patient dying with lung cancer are priceless, but the ad makes it sound like the drug makes lung cancer just a few notches more serious than a sore throat.

I’m not going to go off on a rant here, I promise, but WHY THE HELL ARE DRUG COMPANIES ALLOWED TO ADVERTISE PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS ON TELEVISION?!?! The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow such lunacy, and even the American Medical Association has stated that this practice must be stopped. Maybe if the drug companies stopped spending more on marketing than they do on research (click here) we’d have some drugs for MS that don’t carry with them death as a possible side effect. One thing I’ll say for those leeches to the temples, they didn’t cost $80,000 per year and didn’t cause PML. Of course, they didn’t do anything for MS, so there’s that. But if the leeches were effective, they’d make for some great TV commercials:

Setting: An extreme roller coaster in a giant amusement park. We open with a wide shot of the park, bustling with men so handsome, women so beautiful, and children so adorable that they put to shame the Nazi ideal of human perfection. Amidst the laughter and merriment we find our two thirty-something female protagonists, a stunning redhead and a willowy blonde, energetically climbing into a car on the roller coaster and getting ready for the ride. Both glow with radiant health. The blonde has leeches stuck to her perfect temples, with drops of blood trickling down her almost impossibly high cheekbones.

MS Patient’ s Friend (laughing): “Jane, you’ve got some horrible bloodsucking monsters stuck to your temples!”

MS Patient (cutely giggling): “Oh Susan, don’t be silly. They’re not bloodsucking monsters! They’re Leechabri, my new MS treatment. Last week I couldn’t swallow or get out of bed, but tomorrow I’m climbing Mount Everest!”

The roller coaster then takes off, and the shot widens to follow our heroes as the coaster does a loop the loop. Quick cut to a close-up of our MS patient, laughing hysterically as her leeches flap in the breeze.

And with that image stuck in your mind, I’ll take my leave. I’ll be back with a quick post just as soon as the FDA decision on Ocrevus is announced…