What is new in the treatment of multiple sclerosis?Drugs 2000; 59(3):401-10D
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is considered an autoimmune disease associated with immune activity directed against central nervous system antigens. Based on this concept, immunosuppression and immunomodualtion have been the mainstays of therapeutic strategies in MS. During the last decade new therapies have been shown to significantly improve MS disease course. The effective therapies have led to a better understanding of MS pathogenesis and further development of even more efficient therapeutic interventions. Recombinant interferon (IFN)beta represents the first breakthrough in MS therapy. Three large placebo-controlled, double-blind studies and several smaller studies have demonstrated the efficacy of different forms of IFNbeta administrated by either subcutaneous or intramuscular routes and at different doses in patients with active relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RR-MS). The three IFNbeta drugs are IFNbeta-1b and two IFNbeta-1a preparations (Avonex and Rebif). Although each clinical trial had unique features and differences that make direct comparisons difficult, the aggregate results demonstrate a clear benefit of IFNbeta for decreasing relapses and probability of sustained clinical disability progression in patients with RR-MS. All forms of IFNbeta therapy had beneficial effects on the disease process measured by brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). IFNbeta-1a (Avonex) also showed benefit in slowing or preventing the development of MS related brain atrophy measured by MRI after 2 years of therapy. Glatiramer acetate, the acetate salt of a mixture synthetic polypeptides thought to mimic the myelin basic protein showed a significant positive results in reducing the relapse rate in patients with RR-MS. Follow up of these patients for approximately 3 years continued to show a beneficial effect on disease relapse rate. Recent MRI data supported the beneficial clinical results seen with glatiramer acetate in patients with RR-MS. Recent studies using intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) suggest that IVIG could be effective to some degree in patients with RR-MS. However, there is not enough evidence that IVIG is equivalent to IFNbeta or glatiramer acetate in the treatment of patients with RR-MS. There have also been recent therapeutical advances in secondary progressive MS (SP-MS). A recent large phase II, placebo-controlled study with IFNbeta-1b in patients with SP-MS convincingly documented that IFNbeta-1b slowed progression of the disease independent of the degree of the clinical disability at the time of treatment initiation and independent of presence of superimposed relapses. Mitoxantrone, an anthracenedione synthetic agent, was also shown to be effective as treatment for active SP-MS. It is well tolerated but the duration of treatment is limited by cumulative cardiotoxicity. There is a growing consensus that disease-modifying therapies should be initiated early in the course of the disease before irreversible clinical disability has developed. Different therapies should be considered and tailored based on patient condition. Combination therapies could be considered as a therapeutic option for patients that failed therapies with IFNbeta and/or glatiramer acetate. Currently, there are new ongoing studies testing safety and/or efficacy of different combination regimens (i.e. azathioprine with IFNbeta, IFNbeta with glatiramer acetate, or pulses of intravenous cyclophosphamide with IFNbeta). Determining the effect of different therapies on the course of the disease within large clinical studies appears easier than determining individual responsiveness. Therefore, standardised methods for evaluating individual patients receiving disease-modifying therapies and development of effective therapeutic algorithms are needed.