Clyde E. Markowitz, MD, is the director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Penn Neuroscience Center and an Associate Professor of Neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. We sat down with Dr. Markowitz to talk about different multiple sclerosis (MS) therapies and how to determine when it might be time to switch a patient’s current regimen.
Why would an MS specialist switch a patient from one drug therapy to another?
The main reason we switch a patient from one treatment to another is usually related to an inadequate response to their current treatment. This can be seen when a patient is having new clinical symptoms suggestive of a relapse. Additional situations which would cause us to consider a switch in treatment include if the patient has had a new abnormalities seen on MRI scans, such as new T2 lesions or gadolinium- enhancing lesions. We might also switch a patient due to intolerance towards the medication they are on. For example, if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms or having Gastrointestinal issues.
In addition, the expectation that the treatment should slow the rate of progression may not be adequately demonstrating the desired effect. In that setting, we may consider a switch to a drug with a different mechanism of action to hopefully better control disease progression.
Laboratory abnormalities while on treatment might also be a consideration for a switch in therapy. Elevated LFTs, or low WBCs can occur on DMTs and may require a change in treatment. Patients on Natalizumab, require JC virus antibody testing. If the patient’s JCV Ab status changes from negative to positive or a rising index may require a change in therapy to avoid the development of PML.
What are some special considerations for patients during a switch in therapy?
We need to take into consideration the patient’s comorbidities. Does the patient have a history of diabetes, hypertension, cardiac concerns or a risk for infectious complications? What is the patient’s age? As individuals age the immune system becomes less robust at fighting infections or surveillance for malignancies. Some of the medications are immunosuppressive and might increase the risk of developing opportunistic infections or cancers.
Family planning should be taken into consideration during the discussion of which medications might be appropriate. Is the patient planning to have a pregnancy in the near future? Some medications might not be appropriate in that case.
Route of administration could be a factor to consider, since there are several medications that are administered as an infusion in a medical office or hospital setting. This could create issues for some patients who are employed and may have to miss work during these infusions. This could be as frequent as monthly or 2-3 times per year. Some patients just starting a new job, may feel uncomfortable taking time off or disclosing that they have MS leading to concerns for job security.
We also consider the side effects of the new treatment. What side effects and safety monitoring are required for a particular medication? Are there frequent blood tests, cardiac monitoring, dermatologic and ophthalmologic monitoring? How will this impact the patient’s quality of life?