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January 21st, 2010
05:18 PM ET

At last! Oral therapies for MS closer to reality

By Georgiann Caruso
CNN Medical Associate Producer

As someone living with the neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS), I have blogged in the past about advances in treating the condition. And I have some good news to blog about today.

Three new studies, published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, are very encouraging for people with relapsing-remitting MS. Clinical trial results show two drugs - cladribine and fingolimod - are proving successful at fighting the disease. Both appear to have the same benefits: a reduction in relapse rates, the potential to slow the progression of disability and a reduction of visible MS activity in the brain as seen on MRIs. Plus – and this is one of the best parts – they are both pills. Never before has the MS community been so close to a world of needle-free treatments. Questions, however, still remain about the drugs' long-term safety; more studies are needed.

Because both drugs affect the immune system, there were increased infection rates among people taking the drugs as compared to placebo. And investigators are keeping a close eye on the incidence of cancer to determine if these drugs are linked to higher rates.

Dr. John Richert, executive vice president of Research & Clinical Programs at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said the side effects appear to largely be manageable. "It will be important for the companies to set up long-term follow-up studies as surveillance," Richert said.

Richert also said that this long-term data would help doctors and patients make a better informed choice when considering one of these options. He also noted that "oral" should not imply that the drugs are less effective, or more safe.

He added that having a more convenient choice of treatment may prompt patients to start therapy earlier and to stay on their medications long-term – two variables that make a big difference in combating the disease.

Both drug makers are working with the FDA to be evaluated for approval in the United States.

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soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Roger Clark

    There is a story of human compassion that I believe the public might be interested in. Please take a moment to investigate by visiting ... http://www.kidney4nick.com ... The attention we hope to draw for Nick, as well as others, can begin to make people aware: That with the success rates for kidney transplants well above 90%, the improvement of the patients quality of life, and in some cases where the patient has a donor kidney, there is no reason for anyone to have to suffer with dialysis. That is what healthcare reform is really all about! It comes down to the quality of personal care a patient recieves based on his or her ability to pay! (1)Equal service for those with no insurance or way to pay,(2)those people with government sponsored insurance: i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, (3)those people with your standard health plans, and (4)those wealthy people that can pick and choose to pay for procedures themselves. Thank you for your time and consideration. My son's life may quite well hang in the balance of him getting the media attention or whether he will just go on getting more of the same old same old!!!
    Sincerely,
    Roger

    January 21, 2010 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Patricia

    I'm very please to hear about MS research work being done from what I have read lately MS medicine is improving swiftly with positive results. Keep up the good work.

    January 21, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Diane

    I think the most exciting thing about the two oral treatments is that they appear to be more effective at delaying disability than the majority of the shots - 50% effective as opposed to around 30%.

    One of the hardest things for me about doing the injections has been knowing that there's only a 30% chance it's doing any good. To be able to increase those odds AND take the drug orally sounds great!

    Now the question is how long to wait after it's approved before I switch. Unfortunately I don't think I'd be comfortable switching for five or ten years.

    January 21, 2010 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dennis

    My wife was diagnosed with MS by "modern medicine" in 1995. The diagnosis was wrong however, even though the symptoms are the same, even the lesions on the brain. My wife was later identified as having Lyme disease, not MS, by a microbiologist. The standard lyme test is less than 40% accurate and when the test comes back negative the doctor ends up diagnosing the patient with a disease based on the symptoms at that time, such as MS, Crohns, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Epstein Barre, Parkinson, Lupus, Irritable Bowel, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, etc. The only way to get an accurate test is to go to a lyme-literate doctor, who would send your test to the diagnostic lab in California known for accuracy. For more information go to: http://www.samento.com.ec/sciencelib/sammain.html
    My wife is doing well and is a professor at the local university. Don't give up and do your own research. It can save a life.

    January 21, 2010 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ILUMINADA ABREU SIMO

    PLEASE, INTERVIEW THE PRESIDENT PREVAL AND ASK IF IT IS POSSIBLE TO MOVE THE PEOPLE IN THE STREET TO CAPE HAITIEN. THAT WOULD ALIVIATE THE SITUATION. CAPE HAITIEN IS IN THE NORTH SIDE OF THE COUNTRY.

    I SEE TOURISTS GOING TO THE NORTH OR HAITI!!!!!!!!!

    ANOTHER THING: I SENT A MAIL TO LARRY KING TO SEE IF HE CAN BUY A BIG CARPA (TENT) TO OPERATE AS CHILDREN HOSPITAL.

    THE PRESIDENT NEED TO HAVE A MEETING WITH ALL THE DELEGATIONS:

    MAIN DELEGATION OBVIOUSLY IS U.S.A....
    DISTRIBUITION PLAN IS VERY IMPORTANT
    PERSON IN CHARGE OF DISTRIBUTION

    EACH DELEGATION
    AID AND DISTRIBUITION PLAN

    January 22, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. ILUMINADA ABREU SIMO

    IREPORTED TO LARRY KING FROM THE D.R. REGARDING THE MISERIE OF HAITI, IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO.

    I CAN SAPEAK, SPANISH, ENGLISH, FRENCH AND PORTUGUES

    I AM A MEDICAL TRANSLATOR. MAY I HELP YOU?

    LUMI LATHROP

    January 22, 2010 at 00:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. In the Know

    Great comments by Dennis !!! I'm not sure why the medical community is either hiding or ignorant the fact that all, or most of the diseases mentioned in his response are caused by infections, such as Lyme and another big one that not many are talking about, Mycoplasmas !!!! Perhaps it is because there is no profit in the cure, yet pharmaceautical companies profit on repeat customers, and most university funding and seminars for doctors are funded by pharmaceautical companies. Have you ever known anyone who had MS and found that a few neighbors or friends also had it ? Too coincidental, it's because the cause is a contagious infection. Believe it or not. Way to go Dennis, your one of the lucky ones !!!!

    January 22, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ryan

    Don't listen to them about infections causing MS. Its a real disease and the Lyme/Mycoplasma link has been thoroughly explored and never proven. Until there is more evidence for such a link, stick to standard therapies and don't fall for the pie in the sky, we know better than the experts diagnosis strategy.

    Oral MS therapies will help overcome a huge barrier to treatment. Many patients need to be on medication and either refuse altogether or miss doses due to not liking weekly to three time weekly needle sticks. Its a huge step forward for MS, the biggest since the interferon therapies became available.

    January 22, 2010 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. david

    Good news, but about a year too late for my sister.

    January 24, 2010 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Diane

    My name is also Diane, but I am not the same Diane that commented earlier. I, too, am anxiously awaiting the oral meds! As excited as I am, I also feel that I will have to wait until they've been on the market for a while before I make the switch. I do feel a need for the oral medications, as my injection sites are getting depleted. I cannot inject my arms anymore and my stomach is not too accepting of injections anymore, either. I have been injecting for almost 10 years.

    January 24, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.