How Medical Breakthroughs Are Helping MS Patients Return To Their Normal Lives
News New advancements in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) are giving Canadians back their lives. Chris Mann is among them.
The 36-year-old photographer and resident of Victoria, B.C., learned that he had the incurable disease two years ago, after experiencing vision loss and repeated bouts of vertigo. At first, he chalked them up to the stress associated with big changes in his life: a career change, a cross-country move and marriage. As a new dad, he feared his MS diagnosis would mean he couldn’t be the parent that he wanted to be.
“It was a very tough first year,” Mann recalls. “I was prescribed an injectable drug to slow the progression of my MS. It made me feel horrible. It made me feel depressed, and I didn’t want to leave the house.” He stayed on the medication for six months, until his physician switched him to an oral drug. But it wasn’t working. His MS wasn’t being slowed.
A game changer
In March 2015, he underwent a treatment in which he was given infusions of a new drug: 5 infusions in the first year, and 3 infusions 12 months later. “It was a game changer,” he says. “I was finally stable and I got 99.9 percent of my vision back. I don’t worry about how to live my life anymore. The treatment has meant security and freedom. I wish I’d had it earlier.”
Dr. Carolina Rush, physician at the Ottawa Hospital MS Clinic Research Unit, has witnessed the advancements in MS treatment first-hand. She has been seeing patients with the disease since 2005. “We’ve come a long way, especially in the last couple of years,” she says. “It’s an exciting time. In the beginning, all we had were injectables to treat the disease, and that was it.”
No more daily reminders
Both patients and physicians have benefited from the new drugs now available, including one administered intravenously over the course of five days. After that, patients come back one year later for a second round of three infusions, and most patients don’t need any further treatment. “My patients like it because they don’t have a daily reminder that they have MS,” says Dr. Rush. “No injections or daily reminders that they have MS. That’s a big advantage.”
When put on older first-line therapies, some patients don’t do well and experience repeated attacks of the disease. While there is no cure for MS, the newest five-day infusible treatment works by putting the brakes on the disease’s progression. Dr. Rush says it’s like “a reboot of the immune system.” The mechanism of the medication kills bad cells, and then empowers the new ones to be generated with an ability to behave normally. It’s one of the reasons the results last longer for these latest drugs. And that’s good news for the 100,000 Canadians living with MS.
Feeling energetic and excited
Courtney Lee, a 26-year-old mom with two children, living in Oshawa, Ontario, recently underwent her second round of infusions, over three days this time. It was part of her doctor’s overall treatment plan — to give her a treatment that worked differently than all other currently available treatments. She continues to reap the benefits of this approach.
Post-treatment, she says that it’s almost like her MS is non-existent. “Now I don’t even think about having the disease. I can’t even describe the excitement and joy that feeling brings me. When I tell people that I have MS, they are shocked. I’m so energetic. I’m playing soccer at least a couple times a week.”
Fewer side effects is key for patients
After a second 3-day infusion of this treatment, 80 percent of patients will not need a third. That’s a testament to its effectiveness. And for patients like Lee and Mann, there’s another clear advantage: fewer side effects. As busy parents with careers, they don’t want to have to make sacrifices in the quality of their lives. Now, thanks to the latest developments in MS treatment, they don’t have to.