Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★
Did you watch the anti-CD20 debate on the triMS-online platform yesterday? The question that was asked was ‘Can we use anti-CD20 therapies as immune reconstitution therapies rather than maintenance therapies?’. I am not sure the debaters answered the question.
When I asked Anders Svenningsson, who is probably the world’s biggest adopter of anti-CD20 therapy as a treatment for MS, whether or not someone with MS could stay on anti-CD20 for life, he hesitated before saying ‘YES and NO’. His reason? SAFETY. He described things they were doing to try and reduce the risk of hypogammaglobulinaemia and infections in their patients on longterm anti-CD20 therapy. I am not sure it will work. Interestingly, he suggested stopping anti-CD20 therapy when pwMS get to 55-60 years of age when the risks of treatment outweigh the benefits. In other words, Anders Svenningsson is saying we can’t leave pwMS on anti-CD20 lifelong.
I have been making this exact point on this blog for several years and that is why I have proposed the ADIOS and iTeri studies as ways to derisk long-term anti-CD20 therapies. However, I have been thinking are there any other DMTs we could use after anti-CD20 that would potentially work to derisk the hypogammaglobulinaemia and tackle the cause of MS. I suspect yes. Fumarates, as monotherapy, or in combination with a neuroprotective therapy, also makes sense. The difficulty is what will be the primary outcome of such a trial and how would you do power calculations?
Maybe we could use a non-inferiority design and make safety the primary outcome. Would regulators buy that in addition to non-inferiority as a secondary outcome?
There are not many companies who have the resources, motivation and know-how to do such a study. Roche-Genentech and Novartis would not as this would eat into their franchise. In my opinion, the only company with big enough bollocks and know-how to take this on would be Biogen. Would they be interested?
This is potentially an opportunity for them to come up with a new combination pill of one of their fumarate formulations with an add-on neuroprotective. DMF will maintain MS in remission post-anti-CD20 and the neuroprotective will tackle smouldering MS, which is something anti-CD20 therapies don’t do. A fumarate-neuroprotection combination may actually not only show improved safety but superiority on end-organ damage markers (brain volume loss etc.).
The hypothesis is that if B-cells and in particular memory B-cells are driving MS then starting DMF for example before memory B-cell reconstitution occurs may actually make MS more responsive to fumarates. Add in a combination, to generate new intellectual property (Biogen need this as their fumarate patents are being challenged) and you have a new DMT.
If successful this new combination pill will probably become the most prescribed DMT in MS. Why? To quote Anders Svenningsson you can’t really remain on anti-CD20 lifelong so if you have to derisk an anti-CD20 at some stage. So why not do it before you develop hypogammaglobulinaemia? As more than 50% of MS patients will be treated with anti-CD20 therapy in the near future this combination therapy could potentially capture more than 50% of the market.
If you are on an anti-CD20 therapy (ocrelizumab, rituximab or ofatumumab) would you volunteer to participate in the DERISK study below?