As the search for a cure continues, it’s imperative to ask the big questions: How does MS develop and progress? How can we reduce health disparities in care and treatment? How can we improve existing treatments and expedite the discovery of new ones? To continue making progress, we must stretch the boundaries of scientific understanding until we have answers and solutions to these and other important questions.
We know that MS is a leading cause of non-traumatic disability for young people.1,2 Yet, one of the biggest challenges for neurologists is that every person’s experience with MS is unique, making it difficult to predict what symptoms will manifest, how disruptive the symptoms and relapses will be and how a person will respond to treatment.
Twenty years ago, it was widely thought that MS was mainly driven by T cells, but in the late 1990’s, a team of researchers made a groundbreaking discovery: B cells also played a key role in MS. This discovery redefined how the scientific community thought about the underlying biology of MS and the central role B cells can play.
It was this bold thinking that led researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and scientists at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, to explore whether a medication that depleted B cells would have an impact on MS. This collaboration, in turn, inspired the clinical research behind Ocrevus® (ocrelizumab), the first and only treatment approved by the FDA for both relapsing MS (RMS) and primary progressive MS (PPMS). MS is a progressive disease from the start. An important goal of treating MS is to reduce disease progression as soon as possible to slow how quickly a person’s disability changes and prevent the long-term consequences of disease progression.3 Ocrevus is administered via infusion twice yearly, with the initial dose split into two separate infusions and given two weeks apart. As with any therapy, this treatment has side effects, which can be found in the full Prescribing Information and Medication Guide. Ocrevus is contraindicated in patients with active hepatitis B virus infection and in patients with a history of life-threatening infusion reactions to Ocrevus. The warnings and precautions for Ocrevus are infusion reactions, and infections, which include respiratory tract infections, herpes, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), and hepatitis B virus (HBV) reactivation. Additional warnings are possible increased risk of immunosuppressant effects with other immunosuppressants, reduction in immunoglobulins, and malignancies.
Ensuring a Continuum of Care
Another significant challenge facing the MS community is ensuring ongoing support and care for people living with the condition, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know that seeking early and appropriate care for MS is critical to slowing disability progression and achieving successful patient outcomes,” said Dr. Ashish Pradhan, Executive Director of Neuroimmunology at Genentech. “The pandemic has created additional barriers to early diagnosis and treatment, but we are committed to continuing to do everything we can to support patients and physicians at this stressful time.” Dr. Pradhan also observed that FDA's approval of a shorter infusion time for Ocrevus in December 2020 could potentially contribute to reducing some of the burden on the healthcare system in the long-term.
Being able to connect with others in the MS community is a vital part of navigating the uncertainties of living with the condition. This past April, to shine a light on the diverse MS community, Genentech hosted an #MSVisibility Virtual Concert that gathered people from across the world with different backgrounds and MS experiences and encouraged people living with MS to continue seeking appropriate support and care during the pandemic.
Continued support of the MS community through advocacy partnerships and grants over the years has played a sustained role in Genentech’s efforts to ensure people with MS receive necessary medical care and treatment. For example, Genentech partnered with an MS advocacy organization to fund a program that helps people get to and from their medical appointments. In addition, for more than 30 years, Genentech has helped more than two million people get the medicine they need through patient assistance programs like Genentech Access Solutions and the Genentech Patient Foundation.
MS has been shown to impact individuals and specific populations in markedly different ways. Those who identify as Black or of African descent and Hispanic/Latinos for example can experience more severe symptoms and faster disease progression than their Caucasian counterparts.4,5 Unfortunately, it’s not clear exactly why, largely because of their vast underrepresentation in clinical trials (less than 5% and 1%, respectively).6 While there are multiple explanations for these disparities, around one-in-three minority patients don’t participate in clinical trials due to lack of trust and 52% feel that the healthcare system is not only flawed, but is actually working against them.7
“Increased diversity in research is paramount to ensuring that the healthcare system is serving every person living with MS and ultimately reducing health inequities while providing more tailored treatment options,” commented Dr. Pradhan. “To advance the care of undertreated and underserved people with MS, we are creating and supporting programs, grants and other initiatives focused on people of color and inclusive and minority research to better understand how MS presents itself and develops in different patient populations. We want to make sure that all generations of people living with MS are equally represented in clinical research and have access to the treatments that will work best for them.”
Refining Existing Approaches and Leading Treatment Innovation
For decades, Genentech and Roche have been conducting neuroscience research and clinical trials to make forward progress in understanding and treating a variety of neurological conditions, including MS. While the treatment landscape for MS has evolved significantly over the past two decades, continued investment in research and development is critical. Continuing to review and refine existing treatment approaches may improve patient outcomes and discovering new treatment approaches may play an important role in advancing the treatment paradigm.
Dr. Pradhan added, “as the scientific community continues to think boldly, and re-imagine treatment and care for MS, we hope to continue to improve our understanding of the condition for all people with the disease, and advance treatment options. Pushing boundaries means refusing to stop until everyone living with MS can be treated effectively and a cure is found. This sentiment reminds me of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, ‘Don’t follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ That’s what we are trying to do at Genentech.”
To learn more, please visit Ocrevus.com.
Indications and Important Safety Information
OCREVUS is indicated for the treatment of:
- Relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), to include clinically isolated syndrome, relapsing-remitting disease, and active secondary progressive disease, in adults.
- Primary progressive MS, in adults.
OCREVUS is contraindicated in patients with active hepatitis B virus infection and in patients with a history of life-threatening infusion reaction to OCREVUS.
Warnings and Precautions
OCREVUS can cause infusion reactions, which can include pruritus, rash, urticaria, erythema, bronchospasm, throat irritation, oropharyngeal pain, dyspnea, pharyngeal or laryngeal edema, flushing, hypotension, pyrexia, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, tachycardia, and anaphylaxis. In multiple sclerosis (MS) clinical trials, the incidence of infusion reactions in OCREVUS-treated patients [who received methylprednisolone (or an equivalent steroid) and possibly other pre-medication to reduce the risk of infusion reactions prior to each infusion] was 34-40%, with the highest incidence with the first infusion. There were no fatal infusion reactions, but 0.3% of OCREVUS-treated MS patients experienced infusion reactions that were serious, some requiring hospitalization.
Observe patients treated with OCREVUS for infusion reactions during the infusion and for at least one hour after completion of the infusion. Inform patients that infusion reactions can occur up to 24 hours after the infusion. Administer pre-medication (e.g., methylprednisolone or an equivalent corticosteroid, and an antihistamine) to reduce the frequency and severity of infusion reactions. The addition of an antipyretic (e.g., acetaminophen) may also be considered. For life-threatening infusion reactions, immediately and permanently stop OCREVUS and administer appropriate supportive treatment. For less severe infusion reactions, management may involve temporarily stopping the infusion, reducing the infusion rate, and/or administering symptomatic treatment.
A higher proportion of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced infections compared to patients taking REBIF or placebo. In RMS trials, 58% of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced one or more infections compared to 52% of REBIF-treated patients. In the PPMS trial, 70% of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced one or more infections compared to 68% of patients on placebo. OCREVUS increased the risk for upper respiratory tract infections, lower respiratory tract infections, skin infections, and herpes-related infections. OCREVUS was not associated with an increased risk of serious infections in MS patients. Delay OCREVUS administration in patients with an active infection until the infection is resolved.
Respiratory Tract Infections
A higher proportion of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced respiratory tract infections compared to patients taking REBIF or placebo. In RMS trials, 40% of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced upper respiratory tract infections compared to 33% of REBIF-treated patients, and 8% of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced lower respiratory tract infections compared to 5% of REBIF-treated patients. In the PPMS trial, 49% of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced upper respiratory tract infections compared to 43% of patients on placebo and 10% of OCREVUS-treated patients experienced lower respiratory tract infections compared to 9% of patients on placebo. The infections were predominantly mild to moderate and consisted mostly of upper respiratory tract infections and bronchitis.
In active-controlled (RMS) clinical trials, herpes infections were reported more frequently in OCREVUS-treated patients than in REBIF-treated patients, including herpes zoster (2.1% vs. 1.0%), herpes simplex (0.7% vs. 0.1%), oral herpes (3.0% vs. 2.2%), genital herpes (0.1% vs. 0%), and herpes virus infection (0.1% vs. 0%). Infections were predominantly mild to moderate in severity. In the placebo-controlled (PPMS) clinical trial, oral herpes was reported more frequently in the OCREVUS-treated patients than in the patients on placebo (2.7% vs 0.8%).
Serious cases of infections caused by herpes simplex virus and varicella zoster virus, including central nervous system infections (encephalitis and meningitis), intraocular infections, and disseminated skin and soft tissue infections, have been reported in the postmarketing setting in multiple sclerosis patients receiving OCREVUS. Serious herpes virus infections may occur at any time during treatment with OCREVUS. Some cases were life-threatening.
If serious herpes infections occur, OCREVUS should be discontinued or withheld until the infection has resolved, and appropriate treatment should be administered.
Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML)
PML is an opportunistic viral infection of the brain caused by the John Cunningham (JC) virus that typically only occurs in patients who are immunocompromised, and that usually leads to death or severe disability. Although no cases of PML were identified in OCREVUS clinical trials, JC virus infection resulting in PML has been observed in patients treated with other anti-CD20 antibodies and other MS therapies and has been associated with some risk factors (e.g., immunocompromised patients, polytherapy with immunosuppressants). At the first sign or symptom suggestive of PML, withhold OCREVUS and perform an appropriate diagnostic evaluation. MRI findings may be apparent before clinical signs or symptoms. Typical symptoms associated with PML are diverse, progress over days to weeks, and include progressive weakness on one side of the body or clumsiness of limbs, disturbance of vision, and changes in thinking, memory, and orientation leading to confusion and personality changes (per USPI).
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) Reactivation
Hepatitis B reactivation has been reported in MS patients treated with OCREVUS in the postmarketing setting. Fulminant hepatitis, hepatic failure, and death caused by HBV reactivation have occurred in patients treated with anti-CD20 antibodies. Perform HBV screening in all patients before initiation of treatment with OCREVUS. Do not administer OCREVUS to patients with active HBV confirmed by positive results for HBsAg and anti-HB tests. For patients who are negative for surface antigen [HBsAg] and positive for HB core antibody [HBcAb+] or are carriers of HBV [HBsAg+], consult liver disease experts before starting and during treatment.
Possible Increased Risk of Immunosuppressant Effects with Other Immunosuppressants
When initiating OCREVUS after an immunosuppressive therapy or initiating an immunosuppressive therapy after OCREVUS, consider the potential for increased immunosuppressive effect. OCREVUS has not been studied in combination with other MS therapies.
Administer all immunizations according to immunization guidelines at least 4 weeks prior to initiation of OCREVUS for live or live-attenuated vaccines and, whenever possible, at least 2 weeks prior to initiation of OCREVUS for non-live vaccines. OCREVUS may interfere with the effectiveness of non-live vaccines. The safety of immunization with live or live-attenuated vaccines following OCREVUS therapy has not been studied, and vaccination with live-attenuated or live vaccines is not recommended during treatment and until B-cell repletion.
Vaccination of Infants Born to Mothers Treated with OCREVUS During Pregnancy
In infants of mothers exposed to OCREVUS during pregnancy, do not administer live or live-attenuated vaccines before confirming the recovery of B-cell counts as measured by CD19+ B-cells. Depletion of B-cells in these infants may increase the risks from live or live-attenuated vaccines.
You may administer non-live vaccines, as indicated, prior to recovery from B-cell depletion, but should consider assessing vaccine immune responses, including consultation with a qualified specialist, to assess whether a protective immune response was mounted.
Reduction in Immunoglobulins
As expected with any B-cell depleting therapy, decreased immunoglobulin levels are observed with OCREVUS treatment. The pooled data of OCREVUS clinical studies (RMS and PPMS) and their open-label extensions (up to approximately 7 years of exposure) have shown an association between decreased levels of immunoglobulin G (IgG<LLN) and increased rates of serious infections. Monitor the levels of quantitative serum immunoglobulins during OCREVUS treatment and after discontinuation of treatment, until B-cell repletion, and especially in the setting of recurrent serious infections. Consider discontinuing OCREVUS therapy in patients with serious opportunistic or recurrent serious infections, and if prolonged hypogammaglobulinemia requires treatment with intravenous immunoglobulins.
An increased risk of malignancy with OCREVUS may exist. In controlled trials, malignancies, including breast cancer, occurred more frequently in OCREVUS-treated patients. Breast cancer occurred in 6 of 781 females treated with OCREVUS and none of 668 females treated with REBIF or placebo. Patients should follow standard breast cancer screening guidelines.
Use in Specific Populations
Pregnancy Exposure Registry
There is a pregnancy exposure registry that monitors pregnancy and fetal/neonatal/infant outcomes in women exposed to OCREVUS during pregnancy. Physicians are encouraged to register patients and pregnant women are encouraged to register themselves by calling 1-833-872-4370 or visiting www.ocrevuspregnancyregistry.com.
There are no adequate data on the developmental risk associated with use of OCREVUS in pregnant women. There are no data on B-cell levels in human neonates following maternal exposure to OCREVUS. However, transient peripheral B-cell depletion and lymphocytopenia have been reported in infants born to mothers exposed to other anti-CD20 antibodies during pregnancy. OCREVUS is a humanized monoclonal antibody of an immunoglobulin G1 subtype and immunoglobulins are known to cross the placental barrier.
There are no data on the presence of ocrelizumab in human milk, the effects on the breastfed infant, or the effects of the drug on milk production. Ocrelizumab was excreted in the milk of ocrelizumab-treated monkeys. Human IgG is excreted in human milk, and the potential for absorption of ocrelizumab to lead to B-cell depletion in the infant is unknown. The developmental and health benefits of breastfeeding should be considered along with the mother’s clinical need for OCREVUS and any potential adverse effects on the breastfed infant from OCREVUS or from the underlying maternal condition.
Females and Males of Reproductive Potential
Women of childbearing potential should use effective contraception while receiving OCREVUS and for 6 months after the last infusion of OCREVUS.
Most Common Adverse Reactions
RMS: The most common adverse reactions in RMS trials (incidence ≥10% and >REBIF) were upper respiratory tract infections (40%) and infusion reactions (34%).
PPMS: The most common adverse reactions in PPMS trials (incidence ≥10% and >placebo) were upper respiratory tract infections (49%), infusion reactions (40%), skin infections (14%), and lower respiratory tract infections (10%).
1 Murray TJ. (2006). Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. BMJ, 322 (7540):525-527.
2 Tullman M. (2013). Overview of the Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Disease Progression Associated With Multiple Sclerosis. The American Journal of Managed Care. 19 (2): S15-S20.
3 National Institutes of Health-National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2015). Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Multiple-Sclerosis-Hope-Through-Research.
4 National MS Society. "Who Gets MS? - African Americans." Retrieved November 2020. nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Who-Gets-MS/African-American-Resources.
5 Langer-Gould A, et al. Neurology. 2013;80:1734-1739; 2. Wallin MT, et al. Brain. 2012;135:1778-1785.
6 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Clinical Trials Shed Light on Minority Health.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration Website. https://wayback.archive-it.org/7993/20180908114418/https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm349063.htm. Published 2018.
7 Genentech. “A New Perspective on Health Inequity.” https://www.gene.com/stories/a-new-perspective-on-health-inequity.