I am beginning to think that immune reconstitution therapies or IRTs are ahead of their time. Many neurologists, people with MS (pwMS), payers – particularly fee-for-service insurance companies – and the regulators are unable to get their heads around how these agents work. In addition, a few recent review articles, written by colleagues, cast doubt on this treatment strategy and the terminology we use.
IRTs are the only treatments that are addressing the cause of MS and hence have the potential to cure MS. We will know in the near future how many pwMS in very long-term remission post -alemtuzumab, -HSCT or -cladribine are truly MS free. This information is critical to convince a sceptical field of the value of these treatments.
The mortality associated with HSCT makes people shudder. Although the risk of dying from one of the complications of HSCT is quoted as being between one of 1 in 333 (0.3%) to 1 in 50 (2%) many pwMS are taking this risk in the UK or abroad. Despite HSCT being a viable treatment option for pwMS in England and now Scotland many UK MSologists don’t routinely put this option on the table when discussing switching treatments with their patients who are failing other high-efficacy therapies. Why?
Even going to the easy-to-use, easy-to-monitor, oral cladribine option we are seeing slow adoption. Why? I am now convinced HCPs don’t understand IRTs, in particular, the concepts of frontloading of risk and long-term remission.
The study below shows that patients failing alemtuzumab in year one after the first course of five infusions, do very well after receiving their second course. Despite these patients having more active disease and early breakthrough activity, they do very well longterm with high chances of being rendered NEDA and experiencing disability improvement and having brain volume loss that slows markedly – into the normal range – after year 2.
DMTs are about protecting the end-organ or brain and keeping it as healthy as possible so that pwMS can live a normal life as possible and have the necessary reserve to deal with ageing when it sets in. Is this message difficulty to communicate? Knowing this brain volume data why wouldn’t we want to at least offer an IRT to all our patients with active disease and I mean first, second or third line? It is clear the sooner you are treated with an IRT the better you do.
I am now planning to do a series of online lectures on IRTs to explain why they should be so appealing as a treatment strategy for pwMS. Would you be interested in watching?
I also have a vested interest in getting IRTs adopted. We want to use them as induction agents in more advanced MS to be followed by maintenance therapies that target the processes within the brain and spinal cord to address smouldering MS.
Van Wijmeersch et al. Efficacy of alemtuzumab over 6 years in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis patients who relapsed between courses 1 and 2: Post hoc analysis of the CARE-MS studies. Mult Scler. 2019 Nov 1:1352458519881759
BACKGROUND: Alemtuzumab is administered as two annual courses for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS). Patients may relapse before completing the two-course regimen.
OBJECTIVE: The objective was to evaluate 6-year outcomes in patients who relapsed between alemtuzumab Courses 1 and 2 (early relapsers).
METHODS: Post hoc analysis of patients from the Comparison of Alemtuzumab and Rebif® Efficacy in Multiple Sclerosis (CARE-MS) studies who enrolled in the extension.
RESULTS: Early relapsers (CARE-MS I: 15%; CARE-MS II: 24%) had more relapses in 1-2 years pre-alemtuzumab and higher mean baseline Expanded Disability Status Scale score than patients without relapse. Their annualized relapse rate declined from Year 1 (CARE-MS I: 1.3; CARE-MS II: 1.2) to Year 2 following Course 2 (0.3; 0.5) and remained low thereafter. Over 6 years, 60% remained free of 6-month confirmed disability worsening; 24% (CARE-MS I) and 34% (CARE-MS II) achieved 6-month confirmed disability improvement. During Year 6, 69% (CARE-MS I) and 68% (CARE-MS II) were free of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) disease activity. Median percent yearly brain volume loss (Year 1: -0.67% (CARE-MS I); -0.47% (CARE-MS II)) declined after Course 2 (Year 6: -0.24%; -0.13%).
CONCLUSION: Early relapsers’ outcomes improved after completing the second alemtuzumab course. These findings support administering the approved two-course regimen to maximize clinical benefit.