New MS therapies are a significant development, especially for Canada, home to the world’s highest incidence of multiple sclerosis — 28 percent more than any other country. An estimated 100,000 people here are living with MS. Its effects can be devastating — nearly 80 percent of those with MS are unemployed. To date, the disease has no cure, but new oral therapies are giving patients back their lives — a cause for celebration.

Newly diagnosed MS patient asks, “Will my life be over?”

Adria Czesnik, a resident of Port Perry, Ontario, was just 26 years old when she was diagnosed with MS in November 2014. What started with some tingling in her right leg as she got out of the shower one morning evolved into trouble walking, not being able to use her leg at all, and eventually having no feeling down the right side of her body.

Doctors finally pinpointed her condition as relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) — the most common form of the disease, affecting more than 85 percent of patients. The news that she was in the early stages of MS came as a shock. Czesnik remembers, “My immediate response was: ‘What will I do? Will my life be over?’”

“Needles are my biggest fear. There had to be something else.”

She met with a neurologist to discuss her treatment options. One of them involved doing daily self-injections. “I just couldn’t do that,” says Czesnik. “Needles are my biggest fear. There had to be something else.” Fortunately, her doctor suggested taking an oral medication. She was hesitant at first, but her doctor told her, “If you were my daughter, this is what I would recommend for you.” She agreed.

Czesnik has been taking the new oral medication since the end of January. “I take this tablet once daily,” she says. “It’s so easy. It’s such a blessing that there is an oral medication. I feel fine. It’s doing its job and slowing the progression of the disease.” While she had to give up hardcore running on a treadmill, Czesnik is able to go on long walks with her two dogs and enjoy life as a newlywed, having tied the knot in June.


SOURCE: Genzyme

Injection rejection

Faith Munoz, 32, from North York, Ontario, took a different route upon her diagnosis in 2013. Her first MS episode came in the summer of 2011 after a vacation with tingling in her toes and legs that spread to her torso. She didn’t start treatment right away as she had discovered that she and her husband were expecting their first child. “It was a very scary time,” she remembers. “I thought of MS as something that would leave me very ill and incapacitated.” It was something she had witnessed firsthand as a child with a neighbour in her native Mexico.

Munoz initially chose the daily injections as her treatment. “Early on, I was experiencing so many side effects — anxiety, weakness, migraine headaches and tiredness. That medication just didn’t work for me. I had to rely on my husband to inject me and I came to think of him more as the ‘Needle Man.’ It is extremely stressful on a marriage.” She made the switch to the once-daily oral pill. “It is way easier,” she says. “Now, I can live my life and do stuff. I’m in a better place now.”

Proven safety for oral medicine

Dr. Mark Freedman has been researching multiple sclerosis for more than 35 years. He’s a professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa and a senior scientist with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. He has seen firsthand the enormous strides made in the treatment options for patients. There are currently three types of oral medications available for RRMS. “The once-daily oral pill is the one that has been studied to the greatest extent — since 2000,” he says. “It is a safer drug. It is the only drug not associated with opportunistic infections, like the deadly disease PML [progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy], which has been associated with the other two.”

His patients have tolerated the drug very well with minimal side effects. “[With] some people not doing injections the way they are supposed to, they won’t get the benefit of their medication. With oral medications, patients are able to comply better. For patients who experience injection fatigue, there’s no doubt that the pill is an improvement.”