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Oral MS Drug on Horizon

Merck has announced promising results for a new drug treatment for multiple sclerosis.

That's good news for the 400,000 or so people (including me) in the U.S. who have MS, as treatment options are limited to five injectable drugs plus one delivered via monthly IV infusion. Merck's drug cladribine (which, in injectable form, already is used to treat a kind of leukemia) is to be taken orally, and in a two-year Phase III clinical trial it reduced relapses (sporadic recurrence of disease symptoms) by nearly 60 percent more than did a placebo.

A note of caution: among the 1,326 trial participants, four developed cancer, all in different organs. Some analysts say that number's not statistically significant; others say it raises a red flag and warrants close attention in future trials. Still, the drug has been fast-tracked for FDA approval, which is expected to come mid-year.

It's anticipated that the availability of the first oral MS drug will have MS patients across the country flinging aside their syringes in favor of popping a pill, simply for comfort and convenience.

Plus, many people with MS are ill-served by existing treatments: Some people have to try medication after medication to find one that keeps their disease in check, and some never find a suitable option. So the promise of a new drug to try is great.

But what about those of us who (knock on wood) appear to be doing well with the meds we currently take? Should we be quick to abandon our injectables (which can indeed be a pain in the butt) in favor of something less invasive, more convenient -- and perhaps more effective? Ideally most of us will include our physicians as we grapple with that question.

So, people with MS, what's your gut reaction? Are you good and ready to switch to an oral medication? Or are you inclined to stick with the tried and true needle jab, even if it hurts and gives you bruises?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  January 30, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chronic Conditions  
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Comments

As one who, like you, suffers from MS, I am watching and waiting for a non-injectable treatment. However, I don't want to be a guinea pig. I want the medication to be fully vetted before I try it. In the end, I suppose the best thing for any one of us to do is to listen to the recommendation of our doctor.

Posted by: ebroadwe | January 30, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm encouraged by the news of an oral medication due to both the higher percentage of efficacy as well as the convenience factor! When this med hits the market, and provided my insurance covers it, I will consult with my doctor to determine if a change in therapy is warranted.

Posted by: Boots21 | January 30, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Would be nice not to needle every week. What would be nicer would be a LOWER COST association with the drugs. A 3-month supply cost of injectables runs over 5K. Do the math for a years worth! MANY people CANNOT afford the drug. The drugs have been on the market for years YET their cost continues to rise EVERY year. I am one of the lucky ones, job, insurance etc.

Posted by: thomashiette | January 30, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I personally would not give up my Tysabri, which is working great for me (knock on wood), unless and until another drug has been proven substantially more effective than Tysabri. There is no indication that this oral medication fits that bill.

I am glad about the new oral medication, however, on behalf of others who aren't happy with their current options.

Posted by: pinkstate | January 30, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

As an MS patient, I don't mind the daily Copaxone shot that I take, and I haven't had a relapse in many years. I'll think about the oral treatment when it is proven to work as well as the current treatment I use.

Posted by: kiltan | January 30, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I have been on Betaseron since 1994 with good results and virtually no side effects. As much as I get tired of the shots and trying to remember if tonight is a "shot night", I doubt I will switch to the oral med unless the research is compelling enough that it is more effective than Betaseron.

Posted by: rkjf1 | January 30, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I would love a pill, mostly because I seem to remember pills better than I do my 3x weekly shot regimen (which would cost $5.5k without insurance!). It would also be easier for me to travel. I still would like to see this fully vetted before coming to market, if it makes it there.
I am also intrigued by a British trial that has been using a person's own stem cells to treat relapsing-remitting MS.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7858559.stm

Posted by: JOKR715 | January 30, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I would love a pill, mostly because I seem to remember pills better than I do my 3x weekly shot regimen (which would cost $5.5k without insurance!). It would also be easier for me to travel. I still would like to see this fully vetted before coming to market, if it makes it there.
I am also intrigued by a British trial that has been using a person's own stem cells to treat relapsing-remitting MS.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7858559.stm

Posted by: JOKR715 | January 30, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

I take Copaxone and though sometimes at night I don't really feel like making the injection I consider how my life might be without it. I was diagnosed in July and have been taking it ever since so I have gotten used to it and i barely feel the pain so I agree with the others who will need more research before switching.

Posted by: tea_w | February 2, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

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