Conference Coverage

Alemtuzumab-induced autoimmunity: getting closer to answers



SAN DIEGO – The monoclonal antibody alemtuzumab can be an effective treatment for people living with multiple sclerosis, but there’s a catch — the agent is also associated with an increased risk for developing other autoimmune diseases, leaving clinicians with a conundrum.

“This is an efficacious treatment in multiple sclerosis” that can slow the rate of brain atrophy over the long-term, Alasdair Coles, MD, said at ACTRIMS Forum 2018, held by the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis. “But 1 or 2 years after each cycle of alemtuzumab [Lemtrada], patients are at very high risk of autoimmune diseases. This is the not-too-worrying thyroid disease, but there are some very troubling and potentially highly threatening complications at lower frequency.”

Subsequent autoimmune thyroid disease can affect up to 40% of patients treated with alemtuzumab, but immune thrombocytopenia (3%) and autoimmune renal disease (0.1%) are also reported. About 1 in 10 people treated with the monoclonal antibody for MS can also develop de novo asymptomatic autoantibodies (10%).

“People ask: ‘Why doesn’t MS come back as part of this generic mechanism?’ and I don’t know the answer to that,” Dr. Coles said.

In the United States, alemtuzumab is indicated for treatment of relapsing multiple sclerosis in adults who have failed to respond adequately to two or more previous therapies. In contrast, “this has become a first-line treatment in the U.K.,” said Dr. Coles, a professor in the department of clinical neurosciences at the University of Cambridge (England).

“Unfortunately, we can offer no proven treatment to prevent this autoimmunity.”

Next Article: