Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug May Treat Multiple Sclerosis

  • Did that headline grab your attention?  It would me if I knew the person behind the computer screen.


    "What news, Lisa?  Tell us," you say.


    I really want to but am under wrap until Monday for one piece of news.  For another, we just need to see how long agreements take to be made.


    But for the last piece of news, I think I can safely share.


    Yesterday I had a visit with my rheumatologist because as most of you know, I have rheumatoid arthritis in addition to multiple sclerosis.  Well, my RA gets a little jealous of all the attention my MS receives, so it lets me know that it is still around.

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    Yes, my MS and my RA act like children sometimes.  Neither of them likes for the other to get all of the attention.


    So yesterday, I ask my rheumatologist about trying a different medical protocol.  One which involves an infusion on one day (takes 6 hours and a trip to the hospital), followed by another one day of infusion (again in the hospital) with a remaining trip six months later.  She wanted to talk to my neurologist before making any final plans.


    My rheumatologist calls this morning (actually waking me up around 10AM) to say she had discussed the plan with my neurologist.  He's very excited for me to be using this drug because it is currently in trials for the treatment of MS. 


    Imagine that.  A drug which could potentially treat both diseases at the same time.  I had asked about this medication during previous visits, but am surprisingly nervous and excited all of a sudden.


    What if this works to lessen the pain, stiffness, and joint swelling I have from RA while also calming the break-through disease activity I've been having with MS over the past two years?  I get giddy just thinking about it.


    Ok.  So you want to know what I'm talking about, right?  Like I mentioned the drug is FDA approved for use in moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis and also non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.  It is a serious drug which depletes the B-cells, in a similar way that Tysabri depletes T-cells.


    Results from the phase II trials of Rituximab in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2008.  John Richert, MD, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's executive vice president for research and clinical programs told WebMD, "We really want to discourage off-label use. We just don't know enough about its long-term safety."


    Yes, Rituximab has been associated with fatal infusion reactions, tumor lysis syndrome, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, renal toxicity, and other adverse effects.  It is serious medication which carries the same PML risk as Tysabri.


    Now I need to go research more about insurance coverage, hospital choices, copay assistance, etc.  Oh, and my neurologist wants me off of Copaxone for two weeks before hand.  So many changes all at once. 


    I'm excited.


    Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.

Published On: October 16, 2009