A pill to fight multiple sclerosis could change the way people live with the disease

According to a new study from Pfizer, a pill developed by the company that boosts white blood cells and blocks inflammation can lead to sustained remission in people with multiple sclerosis. As a result,…

A pill to fight multiple sclerosis could change the way people live with the disease

According to a new study from Pfizer, a pill developed by the company that boosts white blood cells and blocks inflammation can lead to sustained remission in people with multiple sclerosis. As a result, the disease could be effectively treated within the first year of taking the drug, which has not yet been approved.

The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved more than 1,600 people from 20 countries who took Pfizer’s drug, known as COVID-19, in addition to existing medications, during the course of 12 months. The results showed that the drug not only led to symptoms that patients had experienced for years being significantly diminished, but also that by the end of the year, those who took the drug had no signs of any disease, a remarkable 89 percent reduction in the duration of MS.

“Our findings add COVID-19 to a growing list of novel therapies for MS, where several novel medicines are advancing toward regulatory approvals,” Dr. Michael Sessler, who led the study, said in a statement. “By reducing the intensity of response to beta-amyloid in the brain and targeting a new mechanism in the immune system, this treatment represents a significant development for the way we may treat MS in the future.”

In the study, patients took one milligram of COVID-19 every day for 12 months, most commonly over five days per week. They also took low doses of either interferon alpha or part of the anti-inflammatory drug roflumilast, shown in older studies to cause an improvement in MS symptoms, but do not work the same way as the new drug.

MS attacks nerve cells, resulting in degeneration of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, leading to a wide range of symptoms, including pain, numbness and paralysis. Of the three types of MS, primary progressive, relapsing, and secondary progressive disease are the most common. Each type causes a different set of symptoms; for secondary progressive, this can include confusion, memory loss, speech difficulties and vision loss, while for relapsing, short-term relief is typically one of the few benefits. For relapsing MS, after a period of remission patients typically experience relapse, leading to a significant drop in efficacy, and one of the biggest factors weighing on patients when deciding whether or not to try the new drug.

Doctors have used other medications in the past to help those with MS, including Sanofi’s interferon beta and enbrel, but the researchers warn that the current treatment approach doesn’t work for all patients and is not recommended for many. The patients in the study were generally those who were at the highest risk of relapsing or had tried every other drug in the drug store, and it is not clear at this time what the success rate of COVID-19 will be.

Dr. Ruth Chiao, a neurologist and clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, led a clinical trial of Pfizer’s drug in 2012 and expressed concern over the data at the time, as it was too early to tell how far the drug would get before reaching its limits. “This is a very exciting development,” Dr. Chiao said in a statement, “but it’s not yet clear how effective and safe this combination treatment will be.” Dr. Chiao did express the hope that the drug, which has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, could help many more people with MS.

Read the full story at The Times.

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