New drug may stop or even reverse multiple sclerosis symptoms

About 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, and 10,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system. It can cause pain, fatigue, and problems with vision and movement.

Those symptoms can get progressively worse, but a newly-approved therapy may help some patients put the brakes on the disease.

"When you hit a good shot, you don't need to see the ball. You know as soon as it's struck," said David DeMay.

For 48-year-old David DeMay, golf is not only a passion, it's good therapy.

David was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 16 years ago.

"The initial pain and going blind in one eye freaks you out a bit," he explained.

Most of David's vision returned, but despite trying four different drugs over the years, nothing was really working to stop his symptoms.

That's when neurologist Thomas Scott recommended David try a new therapy called Lemtrada.

"You'll be able to continue to walk the way you do now, function the way you do now, and we won't lose any further ground with your disease," said Thomas Scott, MD, a neurologist for Allegheny Health Network.

Lemtrada is given to patients as an infusion. The drug works by targeting the proteins in white blood cells that are involved in multiple sclerosis. Doctor Scott says Lemtrada might also help reverse symptoms in patients who have recently worsened.

"We can expect to turn the clock back three months, six months, maybe a year if we're lucky," said Thomas Scott, MD.

"In a very brief period of time, a number of symptoms got significantly better," said David

He was an avid runner before his diagnosis, and now he's focusing on maintaining his mobility.

"Is the glass half empty or half full? I'm just glad there's something in the glass," he admitted.

Lemtrada was FDA-approved last year for multiple sclerosis patients who have failed to see any remission with other therapies.

Dr. Scott says 70 percent of the patients who were on Lemtrada for clinical trials are still in remission five years later.

Research Summary:

BACKGROUND: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease that affects the central nervous system. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between a person's brain and the rest of their body. It can cause pain, fatigue and problems with vision and movement. Those symptoms can worsen over time. Currently 400,000 Americans are living with MS, with 10,000 new cases being diagnosed every year. MS is found to be two to three times more common in women than men with most people being diagnosed between the ages 20 and 40. Studies have shown geographical location and ethnicity may also be risk factors for MS. There tend to be higher rates for MS farther away from the equator and in colder climates. People with Northern European ancestry also have the highest risks of developing the disease.


SYMTOPMS: Even though MS may be disabling, not everyone becomes disabled. Each person's symptoms can fluctuate over time and no two people will have exactly the same symptoms. More common symptoms of MS include fatigue, numbness, weakness, dizziness or vertigo, bladder and vision problems and emotional changes. Some of the less common symptoms include tremors, headaches, seizures, itchiness and hearing loss. Speech, breathing and swallowing problems are also on the list of least common symptoms. Both the common and uncommon symptoms listed above are considered primary symptoms. Sometimes the primary symptoms can lead to secondary and tertiary symptoms. Repeated urinary tract infections due to bladder problems and pressure sores due to immobility are all secondary symptoms. Tertiary symptoms are the social and psychological effects of the disease on a person's life. For example, bladder problems, tremors and seizures may cause people to isolate themselves and shy away from social interactions.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: The new FDA-approved drug Lemtrada is stopping and even reversing some of the symptoms of MS. The drug is given to patients as an infusion and works by targeting the proteins in the white blood cells that are involved in MS. Lemtrada is currently not the first line of treatment because of potential side effects, such as lowering the immune system and making a patient more susceptible to infection. Doctors usually start with a less aggressive MS treatment first and for patients who have failed to see any remission with at least two other therapies, Lemtrada may be recommended at that point. Thomas Scott, MD, Professor of Neurology for Drexel University School of Medicine says that 70 percent of the patients who were on Lemtrada for clinical trials are still in remission five years later.