Over the past several years modern medicine has made great strides in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis. In just the past five years three new medications have been approved by the FDA to fight MS with amazing results. The strongest of these is Tysabri. Tysabri was approved after studies showed that it could cut the rate of MS relapses by an astounding 70% offering hope to patients with the disease. Tysabri targets specific molecules associated with MS rather than suppressing immune system interferons. Patients do have to be monitored while using Tysabri to prevent brain infections which could potentially be fatal. However, for most patients the great benefits outweigh any risks.
Three years ago, Kristie Salerno Kent, a singer-songwriter, was standing in a security line at the airport on her way home from a gig when her legs went numb. “From the waist down, it felt as though I was trying to walk through a bowl of oatmeal,” said the 38-year-old musician, who has multiple sclerosis.
She inched her way to a security officer, who called for a wheelchair and helped remove her shoes and belt to get her through security. Frightened and embarrassed, she was taken to her gate in a wheelchair.
Three months later, she experienced another flare-up. While giving a live television interview about a short film she had made on living with M.S., she suddenly lost her ability to speak. “It was as if my mouth was packed with marbles,” she said. “I kept trying to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ to the reporter, but nothing came out that made sense.”
The medication she was taking to prevent these attacks was losing its effect, so her doctor suggested she switch to Tysabri, one of the newer, more potent “disease-modifying drugs,” which reduce the severity and frequency of relapses. She also began taking Ampyra, which early last year became the first drug approved to treat any M.S. symptom. She hasn’t had a flare-up since.
After decades of basic research on M.S., the last five years have brought a rapid rollout of new and sophisticated drugs that are changing how this disease is managed and offering patients new hope.
“We have a disease that’s gone from having no treatments 20 years ago to having multiple treatment options,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, the chief research officer at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “There is a growing recognition that M.S. is becoming a manageable disease.”
Today many doctors prefer to begin treatment of MS using first generation interferon suppression drugs as the risks are lower but the success rate of preventing relapse are also lower. New research has begun to show that if early treatment is aggressive using the newer drugs than MS may be prevented from progressing at all. There are increasingly more options available as more drugs are approved. Multiple Sclerosis is not longer about deterioration as much as it is about finding the treatment for management.