The Allegheny General Hospital in Pennsylvania is now offering a new treatment option for people with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) — the most common form of multiple sclerosis. The treatment may help people with RRMS who have not responded to other medications.
MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks myelin, the insulating, fatty substance that wraps around nerve cells and helps them communicate. When myelin is damaged by a mis-directed immune response, loss of movement, poor coordination, sensory problems, pain and vision loss can result. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that about 400,000 people in the United States have MS and over 2.3 million worldwide.
LEMTRADA (alemtuzumab) is a therapy approved by the FDA to help patients with relapsing forms of MS. The medication is what is known as a monoclonal antibody, a laboratory-engineered immune molecule that can specifically bind to and protect against damaging white blood cells that attack myelin. LEMTRADA is thought to reduce the amount of harmful white blood cells and allow only benign white blood cells to regenerate. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved LEMTRADA for clinical use in the fall of 2014. Doctors supply the drug through the blood stream and clinical studies have shown that it can stop MS progression and block MS flare-ups.
LEMTRADA is given twice a year with the first treatment involving intravenous infusion for five consecutive days. A year after the first treatment, doctors give the second treatment over a period of three days.
“It’s wonderful to have a new option for patients with aggressive MS who have tried various medications and still haven’t achieved remission,” remarked Thomas Scott, MD, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center at Allegheny General Hospital.
However, one downside of the medication is that reducing the number of white blood cells causes a loss of immunity, so people taking LEMTRADA might develop infections or other immune problems. For this reason, LEMTRADA is usually taken as a last resort by people who have tried other drugs for MS.
LEMTRADA is not a treatment that is easy to administer or to obtain, which is why the new program at Allegheny is so important. In addition to treating patients, the program also focuses on educating healthcare providers about how to administer the drug. A comprehensive team of physicians, nurses, physical therapists and patient educators provide treatment and conduct research at the center.
The Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center at Allegheny General Hospital was started in 1992 and about 2,000 patients with MS each year receive treatment at the facility. It is one of the largest treatment centers of its kind in the United States.