The First Oral Treatment for MS

FRESNO, Calif.

Until now, patients had to rely on injections for help. Now, the very first oral medication for MS has patients talking.

"It's every step you take, you feel the pain," Lisa Adams told Action News.

"I could be in a wheelchair. I could go blind," Lizette Garcia said.

Lisa Adams and Lizette Garcia were both diagnosed with MS in the prime of their lives. It's a disease that slowly robs patients of their ability to walk, see and even think clearly.

"I feel like it's unstoppable all of a sudden," Lisa said.

For years, the only treatments for patients with MS had to be injected. Now, the FDA has approved the first oral treatment called Gilenya.

"Patients are excited about that because it is an oral product. We have never had that before," Jeffrey Dunn, M.D., a clinical neuro-immunologist at Stanford School of Medicine, said.

In MS, the body's immune system attacks myelin, a substance that protects nerves. Gilenya works by holding certain immune cells in the lymph nodes so they can't reach the myelin.

In clinical studies, Gilenya reduced MS relapses by 54% compared to a placebo and by 52% compared to another common injectable drug. But some say doctors should be cautious when prescribing the oral medication.

"What we don't know is what can happen long-term, and we don't know that until we have a lot more patients on the drug," Melissa Ortega, M.D., a clinical instructor and MS specialist at the University of Miami said.

Gilenya can also cause serious side effects like slowed heart rate, liver problems, headaches and a build-up of fluid in the eye. Still, lisa says she'd give it a try.

"I'm so excited to think about maybe not having to go back to injections," Lisa said. Lizette has been taking the oral drug. So far, so good.

"I've had no side effects. I have more energy, and I feel so good, and I'm happy about that," Lizette said.

Currently, there are four other oral medications in the final phase of clinical trial testing that could become FDA approved soon. One interesting fact about MS, doctor Dunn says the closer you live to the equator, the less at risk you are for the disease. Your chances greatly increase the further away you live.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Jeffrey Dunn, MD
Stanford School of Medicine
(650) 736-4310
jeffdunn@stanford.edu

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