(WECT) - Up to 350,000 people in the US have Multiple Sclerosis and 200 new cases are diagnosed each week.
It is a debilitating disease that wreaks havoc on the central nervous system and can rob a person of the ability to walk.
38-year-old attorney Allison Keller is in the race of her life. She blamed it on being a busy, working mom until she was diagnosed with MS.
When her symptoms got worse Allison knew she had to find something to help her.
"I read the New England Journal of Medicine, obviously highly respected, and read that it basically had a 70 percent better rate than the top medicine out there," said Allison.
Campath is a chemotherapy drug tested in people with relapsing-remitting MS, the most common form, where patients have unexpected attacks. The study found it lowered the disability rate by 71 percent and the relapse rate by 74 percent compared to other treatments.
"Before we had these drugs fighting with each other, am I 2 percent better, am I even 10 percent better, but 70 percent better is a lot better," said Dr. Daniel Kantor.
Patients get infusions for five days straight. It pushes down the white blood cell count so they can't attack the nervous system.
"Now anything new, you have to be a little hesitant about," said Dr. Kantor.
Risks include thyroid disease and bleeding in the brain.
Allison wasn't eligible for the trial so she's taking the drug off-label, meaning it's not FDA approved for MS.
"It kind of struck us that if we want this, we're going to have to take some risks," said Allison. "I'd say within 6 weeks, all of the MS symptoms except for some of the hand, gone, and I have not experienced them since."
The drug is currently in phase three trials. Dr. Kantor said if they're successful, the cancer drug could be approved for MS within the next 3-4 years.
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Daniel Kantor, M.D.
BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from person to person. People with MS typically experience one of four disease courses. The most common are:Relapsing-Remitting MS: People with this type experience clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function. Sometimes people recovery from the attacks and go into remission. About 85 percent of people are initially diagnosed with this type.
Primary-Progressive MS: Characterized by slowly worsening neurologic function from the beginning, with no relapses or remissions. The rate of progression may vary over time, with temporary minor improvements. About 10 percent of people are diagnosed with this type.
Secondary-Progressive MS: What many people develop following an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS. This disease course is when the condition worsens more steadily, or without remissions. Before the disease-modifying medication became available, about 50 percent of people developed this form of the disease within ten years.
Progressive-Relapsing MS: A relatively rare course that about 5 percent of patients experience. It involves steadily worsening disease from the beginning, with attacks of worsening neurologic function along the way.
NEW TREATMENTS: A recent phase II study showed that alemtuzumab, or Campath, was over 70 percent more effective than high dose, high frequency beta interferon. This means that the chemotherapy drug proved to be much more effective than the current treatment for relapsing-remitting MS. "This is exciting because this is a whole quantum leap forward," Daniel Kantor, M.D., Director of the Comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Florida in Jacksonville, told Ivanhoe. "It is not simply better than placebo, but better than one of the standard medicines." The drug is administered through IV infusion, and for the first year patients get five days of infusions. Dr. Kantor says it works by pushing down the white blood cells that cause inflammation and damage in MS.
RISKS: Campath carries the risk of causing autoimmune thyroid disease and excessive bleeding. Dr. Kantor says each patient should discuss the risks and benefits with his or her doctor. Phase III trails for MS are underway, but the drug is not yet approved by the FDA for MS patients.