Genentech’s Rituxan may help in fighting MS

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. According to a new study published in the Feb. 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the rheumatoid arthritis and lupus drug Rituxan has been found to fight a common form of multiple sclerosis.

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Instead of targeting foreign invaders, such as bacteria, the body mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve cells called myelin.

Most research for MS has focused on the T-cell side of the immune system, but other studies began to suggest that maybe T-cells weren’t the major players in MS after all, and that perhaps B-cells might play a role. Rituxan, a Genentech drug, targets and depletes a type of B-cell known as CD20+.

The study, authored by Stephen Hauser, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, included 104 people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Someone with this type of MS will have disease flare-ups but will also have periods of remission when they don’t have symptoms. The patients were randomly assigned to receive either 1,000 mgs of IV Rituxan or a placebo.

The rate of relapse was significantly reduced for those on Rituxan. At the end of the 48-week study period, 20.3 percent of those on Rituxan had experienced a relapse versus 40 percent of those on placebo.

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