Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★
The two case studies below are creating an ethical quandary in my MS practice. Can you help me please?
The first is the 40-year old woman with MS who is NEDA-2 (no evident disease activity) on DMF (Tecfidera) with no documented relapses in the last 4 years and a series of annual MRI scans with no new or enlarging T2 MS lesions. However, there has been a worsening of her disability; increasing bladder problems and a progressive spastic paraparesis (weak legs). Her EDSS has moved from 4.0 to 5.5 in the last three years. She has self-diagnosed herself as having secondary progressive MS and wants to switch to siponimod. Unfortunately, according to the current NICE approval and NHSE guidelines, this patient is ineligible for siponimod because she has inactive MS (NEDA-2).
Do I recommend she stops her DMF so that her MS can reactivate, which will then make her eligible for siponimod? Most MSologists would say yes, mainly because the development of SPMS is one of NHS England’s stopping criteria. The problem I have is we, the patient and I, have no idea how active her MS will become if and when her MS reactivates. For example, she could have a catastrophic spinal relapse that leaves her doubly incontinent and quadriplegic or it may be on the other side of the spectrum, i.e. one or two new asymptomatic MRI lesions on her annual MRI follow-up. If you were in her position would you stop your treatment to develop active MS?
The second is the 40-year old woman who started natalizumab as a first-line therapy 11 years ago after presenting with two disabling relapses in a four-month period. She has done exceptionally well on natalizumab, i.e. she is NEDA-3 (no relapses, no MRI activity and no change in her EDSS). In fact, her original disabilities from the two relapses recovered. At present she is fully functional, working full-time and very active physically. For example, she plays competitive tennis in her local sports club and ran the London marathon 2 years ago. Her current EDSS is 1.0.
The problem is that her serial annual MRI studies demonstrate that she has progressive macroscopic (visible by the naked eye) brain volume loss. Being an intelligent woman and a self-taught MS expert she knows this is a poor prognostic sign and she wants to stop natalizumab and have HSCT or alemtuzumab. She is aware from reading The MS-Blog (formerly the Barts-MS blog) that alemtuzumab and HSCT have a greater impact than natalizumab on end-organ damage or brain volume loss. After HSCT and alemtuzumab treatment brain volume loss is on average in the normal range (please see BEYOND NEDA).
Would you allow this patient to switch treatments? Under the current London MS HSCT guidelines she would not be eligible for HSCT as she has not failed natalizumab; please note, progressive brain volume loss is not considered a treatment failure. What about alemtuzumab? Applying the strict NHSE guidelines she would not be eligible for alemtuzumab as her MS is inactive at present. However, one could argue that we need to go back to 2010 when she started natalizumab and ask ourselves now would she have been eligible back then if alemtuzumab had been available? The answer is yes as she had what we call rapidly evolving severe MS; in 2021 someone with rapidly evolving severe MS could be treated with alemtuzumab first-line. Should we apply treatment criteria retrospectively?
This patient is JCV negative. If, however, she seroconverted to being JCV positive it would be easier to justify to NHS England for the switch to alemtuzumab, i.e. NHSE guidelines support the principle of derisking PML. The one thing I can’t tell this patient is whether or not alemtuzumab or HSCT will have an impact on her brain volume loss as we simply don’t have the data from a cohort of patients making the switch from natalizumab to alemtuzumab 10+ years into their disease. In other words will the smouldering or real MS that causes the accelerated brain volume loss respond to a potent IRT treatment strategy 11 years after diagnosis? This patient understands there is no data on natalizumab-switchers to support her request, but she is willing to take the risk of either alemtuzumab or HSCT. What do I advise her?
HELP! It is not easy being an MSologist. Please note these two scenarios are based on real patients of mine and are not hypothetical and represent the MS world I live and practice in.
General Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed here are those of Professor Giovannoni and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry nor Barts Health NHS Trust.