The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Genentech’s new drug Ocrevus, which is the first approved treatment available for primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). Primary progressive MS is the most severe version of MS, a nervous system disease that affects the flow of information to the brain. 15 percent of the world’s 2.3 million MS patients suffer from this variant of the disease and have waited for years while over a dozen treatments have been approved for less severe MS. The MS Society has described the breakthrough as a “real game changer” for those suffering from primary progressive MS and hopes this will be the first of many next generation MS treatments.
Patients typically develop MS between the ages of 20 and 50, but it can also strike earlier or as late as 75. Symptoms include loss of balance, fatigue, and weakness that, for most patients, come and go over time; however, patients with primary progressive MS experience a more constant decline in nervous system function that either takes place rapidly or over the course of several years. Most patients do not experience paralysis, but many need a cane or crutches to help with balance and mobility. MS drugs like Ocrevus help to alleviate these symptoms by interfering with a type of white blood cell that causes inflammation of the myelin coating on nerve cells, damage to which prevents the cells from sending electric signals necessary to convey information to the brain.
Genentech has announced that it plans to charge $65,000 for a year’s worth of treatment. Developing a drug for such a difficult condition to treat was doubtless expensive for the firm, but Ocrevus’ high price tag may continue to fuel the debate over the ethics of current drug pricing practices. Just a month previously, Marathon Pharmaceuticals took considerable flak for their decision to price a drug to treat a rare form of muscular dystrophy at $89,000 for a year’s supply. That company decided to put the marketing of the drug on hold in order to meet with patient advocacy groups.
Primary progressive MS patients will be relieved to finally have a treatment to ease their condition, as long as their insurance company will cover it or as long as they can afford the cost.
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