Alemtuzumab: potential new drug for relapsing remitting MS

Published date: 01 Nov 2012 at 1:01AM

Results of two final stage clinical trials, published today in the Lancet, have found alemtuzumab to be an effective treatment for people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

The studies, CARE-MS-I and CARE-MS-II, collectively looked at relapse rate and disability progression in people with MS on the treatment.

The results

CARE-MS-I

CARE-MS-I compared people on alemtuzumab to those on beta-interferon (Rebif) who had previously not taken any DMD for their MS. 

People taking alemtuzumab were:

  • Around 55% less likely to experience a relapse over the course of two years (40% people taking Rebif experienced a relapse compared with 22% taking alemtuzumab).

CARE-MS-II

CARE-MS-II compared the effects of alemtuzumab with Rebif in people with RRMS who had relapsed while previously taking beta-interferon or Copaxone

Investigators found that people taking alemtuzumab were:

  • Around 50% less likely to experience a relapse over the course of two years (51% of people taking Rebif experienced a relapse compared with 35% taking alemtuzumab)
  • Around 42% less likely to experience disability progression over the course of two years (20% of people taking Rebif experienced disability progression compared with 13% taking alemtuzumab)

Can I access alemtuzumab?

Alemtuzumab is made by the pharma company Genzyme.

In August the treatment was taken off the UK market following Genzyme’s application to the European Medicine’s Agency for a license for alemtuzumab. It’s not clear if or when a license will be granted. 

The MS Society’s Head of Biomedical Research, Doug Brown, said:

“Alemtuzumab has been found to be an effective treatment for people with MS – but it’s only useful to them if it’s available on the NHS.

"We urge Genzyme to price the treatment responsibly so that if it’s licensed, it’s deemed cost effective on the NHS.”

Side effects

The trials identified a number of treatable side effects with the drug: infusion reactions, infections, thyroid disorders and immune thrombocytopenia or ITP (an autoimmune condition associated with a lowered platelet count).

Three patients on alemtuzumab developed cancer of the thyroid which was also treated.

There was one fatality caused by ITP in a previous phase 2 clinical trial of alemtuzumab. Investigators subsequently changed monitoring procedures to screen for this unexpected side effect, and have not had a fatality associated with ITP since.

The trials were conducted at the University of Cambridge by world leading MS researchers Prof Alastair Compston and Dr Alasdair Coles.

From idea to treatment

Read more about the history of the treatment and the research process in our research blog.

Page last updated: 03 Dec 2012

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