According to recent data from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society there are 2.1 million people across the globe currently diagnosed with the autoimmune disease. Pharma companies have developed drugs that generated in 2011 some $6.6 billion. But a new study might plunge their revenues, as it finds multiple sclerosis drugs do not delay disability in patients.
Researchers with the University of British Columbia and UBC Hospital MS Clinic and Brain Research Centre in Vancouver have data that might make life for multiple sclerosis patients harder. They studied some of the most widely prescribed multiple sclerosis drugs and found these are not that bullet proof in delaying disability.
“We did not find evidence that administration of interferon beta was associated with a reduction in disability progression in patients with relapsing-remitting MS” reads the researchers’ statement. “Our findings bring into question the routine use of interferon beta drugs to achieve this goal in MS” they added.
The study investigated medical reports from 2656 patients in British Columbia treated with beta interferons between 1985-2008. The beta interferon treatment is the most widely used treatment when it comes to patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
Drugs made by Biogen, Bayer and Merck fall into this category. Last year the companies sold $6.6 billion worth of Avonex, Betaseron and Rebif. Branded as disease-modifying drugs, these have yet to prove they actually delay progression of disability, although they were linked to a minor reduction in relapse frequency and brain lesions.
Biogen released a statement arguing that its drug, Avonex, has been “reviewed and confirmed” by regulators worldwide to have a “positive impact on slowing disease progression”. Spokesman Jeff Boyle said: “Avonex is indicated for the treatment of patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis to slow the accumulation of physical disability and decrease the frequency of clinical exacerbations”.
Merk released a similar statement, arguing Rebif was proved to deliver effective results in “all three key measures of treatment efficacy: reducing relapses, delaying disability progression and reducing active brain lesions”.
The researchers said their data shouldn’t be considered a recommendation for patients to stop taking beta interferons. “…these findings provide evidence, allowing more realistic expectations as to the anticipated benefits associated with drug treatment from the disability perspective” reads the study.