Photo: Stethoscope

Glatiramer acetate

Glatiramer acetate is a treatment for relapsing MS. Its brand name is Copaxone.

Who can take glatiramer acetate?

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland you can have glatiramer acetate (its brand name is Copaxone) if:

  • you have relapsing MS and you’ve had a recent relapse and/or MRI scans show new signs that your MS is active (you have new lesions)

In England you can have this drug if:

  •  you’ve had two relapses in the last two years
  • you’ve had one relapse in the last two years and MRI scans show new signs your MS is active (you have new lesions)

Across the UK you can have this drug if:

  • you have a clinically isolated syndrome or CIS (a first attack of MS-like symptoms) and a brain scan shows you’re likely to go on to get MS.

Copaxone, one brand of glatiramer actetate, now has a licence that says it can be taken by women during pregnancy.

How does glatiramer acetate work?

It's not clear how glatiramer acetate works. It seems to kill the immune cells that attack the coating (myelin) around nerves in your brain and spinal cord.

You inject it under your skin once a day or, at a higher dose, three times a week.

How well does glatiramer acetatework?

MS drugs can be put into three groups based on how well they control it. The effectiveness of glatiramer acetate is classed as 'moderate', the least effective of the three groups. This is based on how much it reduces relapses and slows down how fast your disability gets worse.

Long term evidence, from people on glatiramer acetate for years, shows its effect is much bigger than 'modest' if you start it early on in your MS.

Relapses dropped by: 34%

This means that in a trial, on average, people saw a 34% drop in the number of relapses they had. This was compared to people who took a placebo, a dummy treatment with no drug in it.

Disability getting worse was slowed down by: a modest amount

This means that in a trial, on average, people saw a modest drop in the risk of their disability getting worse. This was compared to people who took a placebo.

What are the side effects of glatiramer acetate?

Compared to other DMTs the risk of side effects, especially serious ones, is among the lowest. After their injection some people go red in the face (flushing), feel breathless or get a pounding heart for a short time. Most people find that where they inject into their skin it bruises, becomes itchy or goes red or hard. You could also get dents in your skin where you inject.

More than one in 10 people also get one or more of these: headaches, a rash, flu-like symptoms, feeling anxious or depressed, joint or back pain or feeling weak or sick.