I was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Are there any new treatments to help me fight this disease?

Answers from Dean M. Wingerchuk, M.D.

There still is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), but much progress has been made in developing new drugs to treat it. Research is ongoing to develop new and more-effective disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) for this disease of the central nervous system.

DMTs aim to reduce the frequency and severity of MS attacks and to minimize the neurological damage they cause. The 10 DMTs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since the early 1990s are effective at treating relapsing MS, which affects 85 percent of people diagnosed with this disease.

After a period of years, relapsing MS often converts to a gradually progressive course. New therapies are being explored for progressive MS because currently available DMTs do not significantly slow its worsening.

New therapies are emerging

Small studies have shown that several treatments that work by different mechanisms than existing DMTs can prevent new MS lesions from developing in the brain and spinal cord. Large clinical trials of these treatments are now underway.

One recent study found that increasing the dosage of the drug glatiramer and administering it only three times weekly was as effective for reducing attack frequency as was standard daily dosing, allowing patients to do fewer injections. Another study showed that increasing the half-life of a form of subcutaneous interferon beta-1a reduced how often the drug needs to be administered. This treatment is being reviewed by the FDA.

Research is also exploring whether destroying the immune system and then replacing it with transplanted stem cells can "reset" the immune system in people with MS.

More research is needed

More research is needed to better understand how these new therapies work and how best to use them as part of a holistic treatment strategy. Although initial research shows promise, the benefits, side effects and long-term safety of these new drugs will only become clear with more research.

With

Dean M. Wingerchuk, M.D.

Jul. 15, 2014 See more Expert Answers