Texas firefighter Wayne Donovan is among the estimated 250,000 to 350,000 Americans with multiple sclerosis (MS). He enrolled in a clinical trial testing Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved as the first therapy for both relapsing and primary progressive forms of MS.
Donovan was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 39, after he started feeling numbness in his hand and foot and saw a orthopedist, thinking he might have pinched a nerve. The orthopedist, however, recognized that it could be something more serious and referred him to neurologist Dr. Edward Fox at Central Texas Neurology Consultants in suburban Austin.
Fox diagnosed Donovan with relapsing MS — an unpredictable form of the disease.
“By the time I saw Dr. Fox, about three-quarters of my body was either numb or tingling, or had pins and needles,” Donovan said in a news release. “As a firefighter, I have to be strong and present in tough situation. I didn’t know what this meant for me and my family.”
The ultimate cause of MS is damage to myelin, nerve fibers and neurons in the brain and spinal cord, which together make up the central nervous system, causing inflammation and other debilitating symptoms. Relapsing MS is characterized by episodes of new or worsening signs or relapses, followed by periods of recovery.
Ocrevus targets immune B-cells that express a protein called CD20 on their surface, giving the drug an immunosuppressive function. The medication, developed by Genentech — a unit of the Roche Group — aims to reduce the immune system’s attacks on myelinated neurons, the main trigger of the disease.
Fox knew about a clinical trial that was investigating Ocrevus and suggested that Donovan enroll. After considering the pros and cons, Donovan enrolled and started receiving Ocrevus soon after. In the trial, the drug was administered every six months as an intravenous infusion.
“I have really good days and I have bad days,” Donovan said. “Though I got a skin rash from my first treatment, I haven’t had other side effects. Even though I think about my MS, I have not had a relapse since I’ve been on Ocrevus. I had a good experience in the clinical trial and liked that I was able to help researchers learn more about MS. Ultimately I am helping to bring medicines like Ocrevus to patients like me who need more treatment options.”
Fox called the FDA’s approval of Ocrevus “an exciting milestone for those with primary progressive MS.
“As the first approved MS treatment to target B cells, this represents a scientific advancement in MS treatment,” he said. “Ocrevus has a proven ability to slow the worsening of disability with a favorable benefit-risk profile demonstrated in three large Phase III studies.”