Rituximab is generally safe and effective in treating multiple sclerosis — with comparable effectiveness to Tysabri (natalizumab) in people with relapsing-remitting forms of the disease, a Swiss study reports.
But patients using this therapy can develop recurrent infections, its researchers noted, and doctors should be vigilant.
The observational study, “Effectiveness and safety of Rituximab in multiple sclerosis: an observational study from Southern Switzerland,” was published in the journal PLOS One.
Rituximab is an antibody that targets CD20, a protein that is expressed on the surface of immune B-cells that are known to be involved in MS development. Studies have shown that the treatment can reduce inflammatory activity, as well as the incidence of relapses and new demyelinating lesions in patients with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).
Similarly, there have been some suggestions that patients with progressive MS may also benefit from rituximab treatment, particularly younger patients with evidence of inflammatory activity on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans.
Current data suggests that rituximab is generally well-tolerated and safe, even in the long term.
Despite encouraging results and a favorable cost-effectiveness profile, rituximab is not an approved MS treatment and is used off-label. Sold as Rituxan in the U.S. and MabThera in Europe, the treatment is indicated for diseases that include certain non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
In the absence of randomized Phase 3 comparative trials, observational studies can be helpful in providing evidence of rituximab’s potential benefits to MS patients. In this study, the scientists “report additional data from the largest collection of MS patients treated with RTX [rituximab] within Switzerland in a clinical practice setting, providing additional evidence that RTX is effective and relatively safe in this highly disabling condition,” the study states.
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