Ocrelizumab is an experimental drug most likely to be used in the future to treat multiple sclerosis (MS). According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on December 22nd, phase 3 trials which test both the safety, as well as the efficacy of Ocrelizumab displayed promising results in treating MS.
Patients with primary progressive multiple sclerosis who received Ocrelizumab during phase 3 trials showed less medical and brain scan evidence of disease progress, as opposed to individuals who received placebo.
Furthermore, in two distinct cases, patients with relapsing MS who were treated with the experimental drug displayed lower rates of progression and disease activity, as opposed to individuals who were treated with standard multiple sclerosis treatment, Interferon beta 1a.
The Science Behind Ocrelizumab
Scientists say that the experimental drug specializes in targeting a type of immune cells, known as the CD20-positive B cells. These are thought to contribute greatly to nerve cell damage and nerve cell insulation, myelin, which can ultimately result in disability for individuals who suffer from multiple sclerosis, says Peter Chin at Genentech, the company in charge of the drug’s development.
However, Ocrelizumab is not the first drug that has been found to target B cells. In an e-mail, Peter Chin says that B cells have also been targeted by other treatments engineered by Genentech, namely Rituxan, in other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and blood cancers. However, the experimental drug Genentech is working at the moment not only targets B cells and B cells alone but because of this, patients benefit from a stronger immune system, since other cells are left unharmed, consequently preserving important functions of the immune system.
Also, Ocrelizumab has been found to have a positive effect on both primary progressive, as well as relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis.
488 individuals with progressive MS were selected for the clinical trials. Out of the grand total, 244 patients received placebo. Over the course of three years, scientists have closely monitored the patients and pulled vital data.
Initial results showed that after 12 weeks of receiving the experimental drug, 32.9 percent of MS patients had confirmed disability progression, as opposed to 39.3 percent of individuals who received placebo. Even though the results look promising, chief medical consultant for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, Dr. Jack Burks says that more research is needed. Nevertheless, using the experimental drug led to reduced frequency of relapses in patients with relapsing forms of MS, decreasing brain lesion activity and decreasing disability progression, so far.
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