AURORA, COLO. – Several drugs for multiple sclerosis (MS) that are contraindicated during pregnancy nevertheless have not shown concerning safety signals in a series of small studies presented as posters at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers. The industry-sponsored research included an assessment of pregnancy and infant outcomes for cladribine, ocrelizumab, ofatumumab, and ozanimod, all of which are not recommended during pregnancy based primarily on minimal data that suggests, but does not confirm, possible teratogenicity.
“When these new medications hit the market, maternal-fetal medicine physicians and obstetricians are left with very scant data on how to counsel patients, and it’s often based on theory, case reports, or animal studies,” said Teodora Kolarova, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at the University of Washington, Seattle, who was not involved in any of the research. “Although these sample sizes seem small, the population they are sampling from – patients with MS who take immunomodulators who then experience a pregnancy – is much smaller than all pregnant patients.”
Taken together, the findings suggest no increased risk of miscarriage or congenital malformation, compared with baseline risk, Dr. Kolarova said.
“As a whole, these studies are overall reassuring with, of course, some caveats, including timing of medication exposure, limited sample size, and limited outcome data,” Dr. Kolarova said. She noted that embryonic organ formation is complete by 10 weeks gestation, by which time an unplanned pregnancy may not have been recognized yet. “In the subset of patients in the studies that were exposed during the first trimester, there was no increase in congenital malformations from a baseline risk of about 2%-3% in the general population, which is helpful for patient counseling.”
Counseling during the childbearing years
That kind of counseling is important yet absent for many people capable of pregnancy, suggests separate research also presented at the conference by, MD, an associate professor of neurology at Duke University, Durham, N.C. Dr. Shah gave 13-question surveys to female MS patients of all ages at her institution and presented an analysis of data from 38 completed surveys. Among those taking disease-modifying therapies, their medications included ocrelizumab, rituximab, teriflunomide, fingolimod, fumarates, interferons, natalizumab, and cladribine.
“MS disproportionately impacts women among 20 to 40 years, and that’s a really big part of their childbearing years when there are big decisions being made about whether they’re going to choose to grow family or not,” said Dr. Shah. The average age of those who completed the survey was 44. Dr. Shah noted that a lot of research has looked at the safety of older disease-modifying agents in pregnancy, but that information doesn’t appear to be filtering down to patients. “What I really wanted to look at is what do our parent patients understand about whether or not they can even think about pregnancy – and there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Just under a third of survey respondents said they did not have as many children as they would like, and a quarter said they were told they couldn’t have children if they had a diagnosis of MS.
“That was a little heartbreaking to hear because that’s not the truth,” Dr. Shah said. She said it’s necessary to have a more detailed conversation looking at tailored decisions for patients. “Both of those things – patients not being able to grow their family to the number that they desire, and not feeling like they can grow a family – I would think in 2023 we would have come farther than that, and there’s still a lot of room there to improve.”
She advised clinicians not to assume that MS patients know what their options are regarding family planning. “There’s still a lot of room for conversations,” she said. She also explicitly recommends discussing family planning and pregnancy planning with every patient, no matter their gender, early and often.