Common MS drugs don't prevent disability, study finds

Common multiple sclerosis drugs don't stave off disability, a new study finds. It's a blow for MS patients hoping to stop their disease from progressing, and to drugmakers facing competition from newer drugs.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, undermines the idea that limiting relapses and slowing the development of brain lesions would lead to improved long-term outcomes. Patients who used interferon beta drugs were as likely to experience long-term disability as patients who did not. "If interferon does have an effect on disability, then it's a relatively small effect," Yale's Dr. David A. Hafler, who wasn't associated with the study, told The New York Times.

And that means that interferon beta drugs--a class that includes Merck KGaA's Rebif, Bayer's Betaseron and Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) Avonex--might need a rethink; "The ultimate goal of treatment for MS is to prevent or delay long-term disability," the Journal of the American Medical Association study authors noted. "Our findings bring into question the routine use of interferon beta drugs to achieve this goal."

That doesn't mean the drugs are useless, however. According to the study's lead author, the new data doesn't challenge beta interferons' utility as MS treatments. "These drugs were licensed because they reduce relapse and have a better outcome with lesions," Helen Tremlett, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, told the NYT. "That has not changed."

- see the release from JAMA
- read the NYT piece