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Newly Diagnosed MS Patients Stay on Rituxan Longer Than Other Therapies

January 16, 2018

Patients that have been newly diagnosed and whose first treatment is Genentech’s Rituxan (rituximab) stay on it longer than other disease modifying drugs that patients are known to start with. The Swedish study reported that when they stop taking Rituxan, it usually isn’t due to lack of effectiveness or side effects.

It was also found that those on Rituxan have fewer relapses and fewer brain lesions than those on other therapies. The team of researchers wanted to explore differences in patients’ discontinuation of Rituxan in comparison to other treatments. The study observed those who had been newly diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) patients in two counties in Sweden, Västerbotten and Stockholm.

The study included 494 patients with RRMS whose age median was 34.4 years old. In Västerbotten County, Rituxan was recommended as a first-line treatment by neurologists and was their drug of choice, with 81 percent of patients there taking it.

Meanwhile, in Stockholm County, only 18 percent of patients were receiving Rituxan.

Other patients were taking other treatments such as injected drugs like interferon beta and glatiramer acetate, the oral medications GIlenya and Tecfidera, as well as the infused treatment Tysabri.

Researchers found that those taking Rituxan stayed on the drug significantly longer than those on other drugs. Among 120 patients that were treated with Rituxan, only seven of them quit because their disease improved, and one due to side effects.

Patients on Tecfidera and Gilenya reportedly had the highest rates of discontinuing treatment due to side effects or worsening of their disease.

The main reason for Tysabri-treated patients quitting was because tests showed they had John Cunningham virus. While the virus is usually dormant, a compromised immune system could lead to it causing a life-threatening brain disease known as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, also known as PML. A third of the patients on Tysabri had tested positive for the virus.

Increases in relapse rates and new brain lesions were also found to be more common in those using treatments other than Rituxan. In addition to this, patients taking injected therapies experienced mild side effects more often than those on Rituxan. Rates of moderate and severe adverse events were similar in the two groups as well.

The researchers wrote, “Collectively, our findings suggest that Rituximab performs better than other commonly used DMTs [disease modifying drugs] in patients with newly diagnosed RRMS.” They also said the study had offered a good glimpse of the effectiveness and safety of these drugs in a real-world setting and that more research of this kind is needed.