Patients Have Options: How New Multiple Sclerosis Medications Are Improving Quality Of Life For Thousands Of Canadians
Prevention and Treatment Affecting approximately 100,000 Canadians, multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that can cause a range of varying symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty in walking, tremors, dizziness, cognitive impairment, vision problems and a whole host of other health issues.
There is currently no cure for MS, so those affected are reliant on their prescribed medications to manage and keep their symptoms under control. The fact that Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world, makes the news all the more important.
Big news for Canada
Two newly developed medications have the potential to improve the prognosis and quality of life for patients affected by multiple sclerosis.
The decision by Health Canada to approve these new medications – one, a daily oral pill and the other an intravenous infusion immunomodulator – could prove to be life changing for MS patients in Canada, who for years have had to struggle with the discomfort of having regular injections to manage their symptoms.
“The older injectable treatments have several disadvantages,” explains Dr. Daniel Selchen, Head of the Neurology Division at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. “The era of injectables is fading because most people don’t like injections if they have an alternative. The older medications do, however, have the advantage of a remarkably good long-term safety profile and relative safety with regard to pregnancy.”
The new treatments have two main advantages, the first being mode of delivery. “The new medications are either in the form of an oral pill or an infrequent infusion, both of which have advantages depending on the patient,” says Dr. Selchen. “Oral medication is something that people are used to, and it’s simple, convenient and self-administered.”
The intravenous infusions allow physicians to know for certain whether or not a patient is taking their medication. “They’re also extremely infrequent,” says Dr. Selchen. “Patients will only require eight treatment days over a period between two and five years, that is a pretty exciting development.”
The other main advantage of the new infusion treatments is the efficacy with which they tackle the sometimes-debilitating symptoms of MS. “In terms of efficacy, the new infusion treatments are on a different plane compared with the older injectables,” Dr. Selchen says. “They’re simply much more effective medications.”
“The new medications are either in the form of an oral pill or an infrequent infusion, both of which have advantages depending on the patient.”
Increased treatment adherence
There is a wealth of data that shows that a surprising proportion of prescribed medication doesn’t get used, or only gets used for a relatively short period of time. For the developers of medications, this poses a major challenge. “Looking at MS injectable treatments specifically, we know that the year after the initiation of treatment, at best, 70 percent of patients are still using the prescribed drug,” says Dr. Selchen. “I don’t think there is any doubt that oral medications are better from an adherence perspective. With intravenous infusions, the adherence rates are extraordinarily high.”
Improved quality of life
When a patient wishes to switch to a newer MS medication, whether for tolerability or efficacy reasons, they are counseled thoroughly by their doctor about what treatment might suit them best. It’s a collaborative process between doctor and patient.
As well as sometimes managing symptoms more effectively, these newer, non-injectable medications can also provide a much increased quality of life for patients affected by MS. “For the large number of patients who dread every injection, there is a significant quality of life improvement related to taking a pill,” says Dr. Selchen. “Also, both families of injectables may have irritating and ongoing side effects, so losing that is another significant benefit in terms of improving quality of life.”