Just back from ECTRIMS 2019 in Stockholm. My highlight was the alemtuzumab 8-year longterm extension data; the brain volume data is quite extraordinary (figure 5). In short, apart from HSCT, there is nothing that comes close to alemtuzumab in radically slowing-down or preventing end-organ damage.
Comi et al. Alemtuzumab improves clinical and MRI disease activity outcomes, including slowing of brain volume loss, in RRMS patients over 8 years: CARE-MS I follow-up (TOPAZ study). ECTRIMS 2019, P1235.
I was also disappointed to hear the rumour that the EMA’s article 20 procedure was not triggered by an EU member country, but by the EMA itself. A colleague told me that the adverse events reporting from Genzyme were so poor that the EMA could not establish whether or not the new adverse events were causally related to alemtuzumab. So to get some clarity on the new adverse events the EMA triggered their own article 20 procedure to simply get Genzyme to do the work they should have done in the first place.
If this is the case it saddens me that people with MS may not be able to access alemtuzumab early in the course of their disease due to poor internal procedures at Genzyme.
If I had MS I would want to have the option of being treated with alemtuzumab. This is why I wrote the following open letter to the European Medicine Agency. I sincerely hope they listened. I have yet to receive a response from them, but I hope someone at the EMA has MS or has a friend or family with MS and understands why treating MS early and effectively is so important.
Open letter the EMA sent on the 20th August 2019
European Medicines Agency
Alemtuzumab has transformed the MS treatment landscape. It not only provides superior short term efficacy, but a significant number of patients treated with alemtuzumab note improvement in disability. However, its main advantage over other DMTs is that a large proportion of patients go into longterm remission and normalise the rate of their brain volume loss. In regard to the latter, this is unprecedented in comparison to other licensed MS disease-modifying therapies, with the possible exception of haemopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), which is not licensed and hence not widely available to treat patients with MS in Europe. Alemtuzumab, therefore, is the only realistic alternative to HSCT, which has become a very popular treatment choice amongst people with multiple sclerosis, in particular, ‘digital natives’ who get their information online. As with all DMTs the earlier you use them the more effective they are and the greater the benefit to the individual patient. Alemtuzumab is, therefore, an important treatment option for people with MS; being able to offer alemtuzumab early as a treatment option is an important factor in my clinical practice to dissuade many Britsih patients from travelling abroad for HSCT.
At our centre, Barts Health NHS Trust, we have now treated over 250 patients with alemtuzumab with over 40% being treated with alemtuzumab first-line. Patients receiving alemtuzumab first-line tend to have more active disease and less favourable baseline prognostic profile. Despite its side effect profile and the need for monthly monitoring, many patients are willing to take on the risks and the burden of monitoring to be treated with the most effective licensed DMT first-line. All our patients are extensively counselled about the risks and benefits of alemtuzumab treatment and sign an informed consent and a patient contract agreeing to the mandatory monitoring programme. We feel the use of alemtuzumab in the correct environment is relatively safe and the adverse events manageable. Not having alemtuzumab for use in early active disease would mean patients having to wait to fail several other, less effective, licensed DMTs prior to accessing alemtuzumab. I firmly believe in the concept that ‘time is brain and spinal cord’ in MS and delaying access to the most effective treatment would limit our ability to optimise the management of MS in patients with more active disease and in those with a poor prognostic profile. In addition, shifting the use of alemtuzumab to a population of patients with more advanced disease would unfavourably change the benefit-risk profile of alemtuzumab and make it less appealing as a treatment option.
The real-life data of alemtuzumab clearly supports it as being the most effective DMT on the market and its other attributes in relation to its posology make it a very appealing therapy; for example in women wanting to start or extend their families.
In summary, limiting alemtuzumab to a third-line, last resort DMT, will severely limit our treatment options for managing this devastating disease. Alemtuzumab offers many patients with MS a real hope of living as normal a life as possible, however, this option does depend on using alemtuzumab early in the course of the disease. I, therefore, appeal to the MS community and the European Medicine Agency to consider these factors when reviewing the benefits and risks of alemtuzumab as a treatment for MS.