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Does rituximab delay disability progression in patients with secondary progressive MS?



Patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) who are treated with rituximab have significantly lower Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) scores during follow-up and significantly delayed confirmed disability progression, compared with matched controls, according to a retrospective analysis published online Jan. 7 in JAMA Neurology.

Dr. Yvonne Naegelin, department of neurology, University Hospital Basel, Switzerland

Dr. Yvonne Naegelin

The results suggest that “B-cell depletion by rituximab may be therapeutically beneficial in these patients,” said study author Yvonne Naegelin, MD, of the department of neurology at University Hospital Basel, Switzerland, and her colleagues. “A prospective randomized clinical trial with a better level of evidence is needed to confirm the efficacy of rituximab in such patients.”

Research indicates that B cells play a role in the pathogenesis of relapsing-remitting and secondary progressive MS, and rituximab, a monoclonal CD20 antibody, may deplete B cells in the peripheral immune system and CNS. “Owing to the limited treatment options for secondary progressive MS and the extrapolation of results in relapsing-remitting MS and primary progressive MS, rituximab was used off-label for the treatment of secondary progressive MS,” the authors said. They compared disability progression in patients who were treated with rituximab at MS centers in Switzerland with disability of control patients with secondary progressive MS who did not receive rituximab. The control patients were part of an observational cohort study at MS centers in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Data for the present analysis were collected between 2004 and 2017.

The investigators matched rituximab-treated and control patients 1:1 using propensity scores. Matching variables were sex, age, EDSS score, and disease duration at baseline. Rituximab-treated patients had a mean age of 49.7 years, mean disease duration of 18.2 years, and mean EDSS score of 5.9; 59% were women. Controls had a mean age of 51.3 years, mean disease duration of 19.4 years, and mean EDSS score of 5.7; 61% were women.

A covariate-adjusted analysis of the matched set found that rituximab-treated patients had a significantly lower EDSS score during a mean follow-up of 3.5 years (mean difference, –0.52). In addition, time to confirmed disability progression was delayed in the rituximab-treated group (hazard ratio, 0.49). “Approximately 75% of untreated and 50% of treated individuals in our cohorts developed clinically significant confirmed progression for the 10-year period,” Dr. Naegelin and her colleagues reported. Complications, mainly related to infections, occurred in five cases during treatment. The researchers did not identify major safety concerns, however.

Dr. Naegelin had no conflict of interest disclosures. Several coauthors disclosed research support and compensation from pharmaceutical companies.

SOURCE: Naegelin Y et al. JAMA Neurol. 2019 Jan 7. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2018.4239.

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