Instances of stroke and arterial dissection in the head and neck have been reported in some multiple sclerosis patients soon after an infusion of alemtuzumab (Lemtrada), according to a safety announcement issued by the Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 29.
Since the FDA approved alemtuzumab in 2014 for relapsing forms of MS, 13 cases of ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke or arterial dissection have been reported worldwide via the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System, but “additional cases we are unaware of may have occurred,” the FDA said in the.
Most of the patients who developed stroke or arterial lining tears showed symptoms within a day of taking the medication, although one patient reported symptoms three days after treatment. The drug is given via intravenous infusion and is generally reserved for patients with relapsing MS who have not responded adequately to other approved MS medications, according to the FDA.
Symptoms include sudden onset of the following: severe headache or neck pain; numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, especially on only one side of the body; confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; vision problems in one or both eyes; and dizziness, loss of balance, or difficulty walking.
As a result of the reports, the FDA has updated theprescribing information and the patient to reflect these risks, and added the risk of stroke to the medication’s existing boxed warning.
Health care providers should remind patients of the potential for stroke and arterial dissection at each treatment visit and advise them to seek immediate medical attention if they experience any of the symptoms reported in previous cases. “The diagnosis is often complicated because early symptoms such as headache and neck pain are not specific,” according to the agency, but patients complaining of such symptoms should be evaluated immediately.
Alemtuzumab was also approved in May 2001 for treating B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) under the brand name Campath. The FDA will update the Campath label to reflect the new warnings and risks.