Two decades of research advances have improved MS therapy and the lives of people coping with MS. Today there are six disease modifying medicines that control symptom relapses and may be effective in slowing the progression of some forms of the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment is now the goal for MS patients.
The first breakthrough came in 1993 with the U.S. introduction of interferon beta-1 b (Betaseron). Another form of interferon, beta -1a (Avonex) has become a mainstay of MS therapy. Beta interferons are believed to work by acting on the immune system’s T-cells. Following beta interferons, a new kind of drug—glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) was introduced in 1996 and is now the most-prescribed MS medication. This drug is also believed to act on immune system cells to interfere with the destruction of mylin.
In 2006, the first monoclonal antibody approved for the treatment of MS was introduced in the U.S.: alpha-4 integrin antibody (Tysabri). This is one of the most effective treatments for relapsing forms of MS. However, it is associated with a small risk for PML (progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy), a rare but life-threatening viral disease seen in people with compromised immune systems. Researchers are currently working on a diagnostic test to identify patients at risk for PML so that this risk can be avoided in MS therapy.
The newest therapies for MS, both introduced in 2010, are fingolimod (Gilenya), the first oral drug to reduce MS relapses and delay the progression of disability, and dalfampridine (Ampyra), an oral drug used to improve walking in MS patients.
Other types of therapy remain essential for MS patients to reduce the impact of symptoms and improve quality of life. These include exercise, physical and occupational therapy, therapy for speech and swallowing problems, and cognitive rehabilitation.