Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Staying With Rituxan Rather Than Switching to Ocrevus

The latest disease-modifying therapy, called Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), was approved in March 2017 for relapsing and primary progressive forms of MS. Ocrelizumab works differently than other DMTs for MS in that it selectively depletes B-cells. B-cells are a type of white blood cell that develops antibodies in response to specific antigens, a process which helps the immune system to fight invaders. However, abnormal B-cells may mistakenly produce autoantibodies that contribute to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, or scleroderma.

Ocrevus is very closely related to the drug Rituxan (rituximab) which is used to treat certain autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and myasthenia gravis, as well as cancers like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Both therapies work in the same way to alter the immune system. Rituxan is also commonly used off-label to treat MS, and I have personally used it since 2009.

Ocrelizumab specifically targets and destroys CD20+ B-cells in a way that serves to lower the immune system. Studies of ocrelizumab demonstrated that it could reduce relapses by 46 to 47 percent in people with relapsing MS compared to treatment with subcutaneous interferon beta-1a. People with primary progressive MS (PPMS) who received ocrelizumab were 24 percent less likely to experience disability progression than those who received placebo in a clinical study.

Ocrelizumab is an intravenous infusion therapy which is delivered twice a year in an infusion center or doctor’s office. The first dose is divided in half and given as two separate infusions, two weeks apart. Pre-medications, such as corticosteroids and an antihistamine, are given in advance to reduce the risk of infusion-related reactions that may include itchy skin, hives, coughing or wheezing, throat irritation, flushing, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue. Since ocrelizumab weakens the immune system, patients are at greater risk of developing infections. Additional risks include reactivation of the hepatitis B virus and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy.

The decision to switch treatment or not

The MS community has received ocrelizumab with excitement and open arms. I personally know several people who have either switched to Ocrevus already or are considering it. Several factors come into play when making treatment decisions, including comparing efficacy, side effects, impact on lifestyle, and insurance coverage. Twelve years ago, MS patients would choose a treatment and stick with it, even if their disease remained active. Now, patients have options and may switch DMTs when their disease fails to reach NEDA (no evidence of disease activity).

Like many people living with multiple sclerosis, I am determined to do all I can to slow down the disease. Although I might not always exercise as much as I should or I might indulge in rich food on occasion, I still try to focus on healthy lifestyle habits and reduce stress. An important part of fighting this disease for me is to consistently use a disease-modifying therapy.

Read this post in its entirety:

Why I Am Not Considering Ocrevus?

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