Lymphoma Drug May Be Effective for Treating MS
By Multiple Sclerosis Connect Staff October 31 448
Rituximab could be a better option for managing relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) symptoms than another drug that is widely used for MS, according to a Swedish study reported in the Wiley Online Library. Rituximab has previously been approved for treating some cancers and a type of arthritis. The new research is the latest in a series of investigations into other uses for the drug. It has not yet been formally approved for MS treatment.
Rituximab and MS
As MedlinePlus explains, rituximab, marketed as Rituxan in the United States and Mabthera in Europe, is a type of medicine called a monoclonal antibody. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug for treating non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It can also be prescribed along with methotrexate to address symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Past studies have also tried treating MS with rituximab. In 2016, Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology published the results of a clinical trial with 27 patients who had secondary-progressive MS. Rituximab failed to significantly reduce brain atrophy.
The new study, published in Annals of Neurology, compared results among 256 people with RRMS who had previously taken the MS drug natalizumab. While natalizumab, marketed as Tysabri, is effective at slowing the progress of MS, it is also associated with an increased risk of viral infections.
Researchers observed individuals as they switched to either the MS drug fingolimod (Gilenya) or rituximab. After a year and a half, the results showed that 1.8 percent of people taking rituximab experienced flare-ups, compared to 17.6 percent of those treated with fingolimod.
Only 1.8 percent of people taking rituximab had MS flare-ups.
Fredrik Piehl, a professor at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Clinical Neuroscience, led the study. In an article on the university’s website, he expressed optimism about rituximab’s potential to improve the lives of people with MS.
"The results we've seen in this study provide strong support for the genuine efficacy of Mabthera in the treatment of high-inflammatory MS and for it being a valuable alternative to approved MS drugs for this category of patients," Piehl said. "It would also bring considerable savings to the healthcare services, as it is much cheaper than the regular MS drugs."
Further research and testing is necessary But these promising results demonstrate continuing progress toward better MS treatments.