Conference Coverage

The art of selecting an MS therapy



Although various clinical, MRI, and patient-specific factors may guide the choice of disease-modifying therapy (DMT) for multiple sclerosis (MS), the treatment selection process is not precision medicine, said Mark Freedman, MD, MSc, in a presentation at ACTRIMS Forum 2019, the meeting held by the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis. “Right now, we are probably dealing with more of an imprecise medicine,” said Dr. Freedman.

Dr. Mark Freedman, professor of neurology at the University of Ottawa, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Unit at Ottawa Hospital, and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Dr. Mark Freedman

Information such as a patient’s ability to recover from relapses may indicate MS severity or the likelihood of disease progression, but selecting a therapy remains “an art of medicine,” said Dr. Freedman, professor of neurology at the University of Ottawa, director of the multiple sclerosis research unit at Ottawa Hospital, and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

When prescribing a DMT, neurologists tend to consider three key elements: the disease, the treatment, and patient expectations. “Focus on these three aspects,” Dr. Freedman said.

It is no longer sufficient for neurologists to diagnose MS, hand the patient a drug, and “expect that things are going to go the way you want them to go,” he said.

Immunomodulating, anti–cell trafficking, or cell-depleting therapy?

Genetics, sex, types of relapses, recovery from relapses, response to therapy, MRI burden, and other biomarkers such as oligoclonal bands and neurofilaments may indicate which patients have severe disease and should receive aggressive treatment.

Determining the phase of the disease is a crucial first step “that is going to drive your choice of therapy,” he said.

Dr. Freedman likened the development of progressive MS to approaching the edge of a cliff. If patients appear to be nearing the progressive phase, “then your choice of therapy has to be an aggressive one – one that will hopefully hold them back from falling,” he said. In the earlier phases of MS, on the other hand, “you are looking at a long-term treatment that should probably be safe and still able to contain the disease,” such as an immunomodulator. If a patient is “about to fall off, you may want to go for temporary use of an antitrafficker to control things, and then eventually deplete the cells that are going to be causing the patient to fall off the cliff.”

Prognostic factors

Disease activity over time, and whether the disease is progressing faster or slower than would be expected, may be important prognostic factors. A patient’s sex also may be a factor because women tend to have more attacks and to have their attacks at a younger age, Dr. Freedman said.

The types of relapses and a patient’s ability to recover from them may provide important information. “Some attacks are quite mild. Others tend to build up disease,” Dr. Freedman said. “Some people are better healers than others. We have all seen people who have been quadriplegic in an ICU on a ventilator walk out of the hospital without even a numb toe. And other people who have a little bit of weakness in one leg seem to never be able to recover from that. Exactly what drives repair is still not clear.” Most patients do recover, however, “and the inability to recover early on is a bad omen,” Dr. Freedman said.

When researchers examined the relationship between functional components of the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) and disability progression, “not surprisingly ... pyramidal and spinal cord and cerebellar [functioning] are more associated with earlier progression” (Neuroepidemiology. 2015;44[1]:16-23).

A study by Lublin et al. found that patients with MS whose attacks left them with residual deficits had more EDSS accumulation over time (Neurology. 2003 Dec 9;61[11]:1528-32.).


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