In Brief

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune
disease of the central nervous system that can cause a wide range
of physical and neurological symptoms. A new FDA approved drug
treatment hopes to change that.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that
occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the protective
myelin covering nerve cells. As the cells are stripped of
their insulation, it causes inflammation which disrupts
communication among cells in the nervous system.  This
can lead to muscle weakness, poor coordination, bladder
and bowel problems, vision impairment, and cognitive
difficulties. MS is thought to affect as many
as 2.3
million people worldwide
, including over 300,000
Americans. The average American has a 0.1% chance of
developing MS.

The condition can take years to progress enough
for symptoms to be present, and is generally
diagnosed between the ages of 20 – 50. But the disease can be
very difficult to diagnose definitively: many patients may
live with a “probable” diagnosis for years, if
not decades, before the disease is diagnosed
definitively. The majority of known MS-cases are
relapsing-remitting MS, where symptoms are intermittent and
followed by periods of complete or partial recovery. 10% of
known MS cases can develop into a more rapidly progressive
form of the disease called primary progressive MS. There
is no known cure for MS, and many existing treatments only partially
reduce symptoms, and don’t necessarily halt disease
progression. However, the approval of new drug
called ocrelizumab might give some MS patients
new hope.

Ocrelizumab: A New Hope

After obtaining reassuring results from clinical studies, led by UC San
Fransancisco’s Stephen Hauser
MD
, the drug — called Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) — could be
a promising new therapy. Like several other treatments
for MS and other autoimmune diseases, Ocrevus is an infusion
immunosuppressant drug. While most current MS drugs target T-cells, Ocrevus
specifically targets a type of B cells that
researchers believe are instrumental in the destruction of
myelin sheaths that leads to the development of MS.

The Phase III clinical trials for relapse-remitting MS
indicated that the drug cut relapse rates by 47%, reduced
disability by 43%, and decreased inflammation by 95%,
compared to the current standard treatment. Most notably, the
drug appeared to slow the advancement of progressive forms of
the disease — which have never before been seen in previous
trials.

The
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
has approved Ocrevus
to treat MS patients. The drug — originally developed by
Genentech — has been acquired by Roche. They hope the
drug has the potential to change millions of lives; from
patients who have already been diagnosed with MS, to those
who are newly diagnosed.

Hauser’s research and the newly developed Roche drug
highlights a new era of medicine. From cures
through gene editing to lasering cures, we are gradually becoming
the masters of our own health.


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