Conference Coverage

MS disease activity returns in one-third after fingolimod withdrawal



BERLIN – At least one-third of patients being treated with fingolimod (Gilenya) for multiple sclerosis (MS) will relapse after stopping the drug, according to data from two “real-world” studies reported at the annual congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, one of which was undertaken in pregnant women.

Dr. Nuria Cerda of the Neurologic Clinic and Polyclinic at University Hospital Basel (Switzerland) Sara Freeman/MDedge News

Dr. Nuria Cerda

In a retrospective analysis of 110 MS patients who discontinued fingolimod from a 433-patient cohort, around 35% experienced a recurrence of disease activity after fingolimod withdrawal. Study investigator Nuria Cerda, MD, of the Neurologic Clinic and Polyclinic at University Hospital Basel (Switzerland), reported that risk factors for increased disease activity were younger rather than older age at MS diagnosis (P = .01) and at discontinuation (P less than .0001), having had a shorter rather than longer disease duration (P = .01), and evidence of MRI-confirmed disease activity occurring while on treatment with fingolimod (P = .02).

“We aimed to describe the frequency of recurrence of disease activity after fingolimod discontinuation in a real-world cohort of MS patients,” Dr. Cerda said. She noted that there were conflicting data on reappearing disease activity after stopping the drug. Case reports and observational data suggest a frequency of 10%-53%, but post hoc analyses of phase 3 trials with fingolimod have not found any higher risk for recurrence versus placebo.

The study also compared “demographic and clinical characteristics in patients with and without recurrence of disease activity, in order to identify possible risk factors for reactivation of the disease.”

The patients included in the study had been treated with fingolimod for a median of 24 months (interquartile range, 10-43 months) and experienced 118 discontinuation events between them. The majority (n = 81) had relapsing-remitting MS, and the remainder (n = 19) were in transition from RRMS to secondary progressive MS.

The mean age at discontinuation was 40 years and, while 60% of patients switched to another disease-modifying therapy (DMT), 40% did not receive further DMT. The reasons for discontinuation were classified as being from disease activity in 44%, side effects in 21%, pregnancy or childbearing preferences in 16%, noncompliance in 2%, and other reasons in 17%.

Recurrence of disease activity was defined as clinical symptoms, gadolinium-enhancing (Gd+) lesions on MRI, or both, within 6 months of stopping fingolimod. This was seen in 38 patients with 41 events, giving a rate of recurrence of 35%. Of these: “almost 60% had clinical and MRI activity, almost 30% had clinical activity only without Gd+ lesions on MRI, and 12% had MRI activity only without ever having a relapse,” Dr. Cerda said. In those who relapsed, the recurrence took a median 8 weeks to happen after fingolimod discontinuation.

A further definition of severe recurrence of disease activity also was used, defined as either a worsening in the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score of more than 2 points (signifying a severe relapse) with or without pronounced MRI activity with at least five cerebral Gd+ lesions within 6 months of fingolimod withdrawal. Thirteen severe events were seen in 11 patients, giving a frequency of approximately 11%. Dr. Cerda reported that patients with severe recurrence were significantly younger at MS diagnosis than were those who did not experience recurrence (P = .003). A trend toward a higher annualized relapse rate (ARR) was seen in patients with severely active versus inactive disease (0.84 vs. 0.54), but this was not statistically significant. In addition, “confirmed disability worsening of 1 EDSS point or more was observed in about 3%.”

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