Busting the Myths How B-Cell Therapy Kicks MS

The Impact of B-Cell Therapy on MS

A Revolutionary Approach to Managing Multiple Sclerosis: B-Cell Therapies

Have you ever had to make a tough decision that could determine the course of your health? Cherie Binns, a dedicated nurse working with MS patients, faced that very dilemma. After experiencing breakthrough MS symptoms while on an interferon drug, Binns knew she had to explore other options. Luckily, her neurologist prescribed a game-changer: rituximab, a type of B-cell therapy that tackles the B cells responsible for nerve damage in MS.

Now, at 69 years old, Binns has experienced a significant improvement in her MS symptoms. Her left-sided weakness, thinking problems, fatigue, and hand tremors are now minimal. The best part? The only side effect she has is a bit of itching, which she easily manages with an antihistamine. Binns is living proof that with a less intrusive therapeutic regimen, people with MS can enjoy far more normal lives.

Kelly Eichman, a 40-year-old from Minnesota, can’t contain her excitement about B-cell therapy either. She had tried four other disease-modifying drugs after her relapsing-remitting MS diagnosis in 2009. But it wasn’t until she started B-cell therapy with ocrelizumab that she finally felt healthier than ever before her MS diagnosis. Eichman jokingly calls it her “miracle drug.”

You might be wondering, what exactly are these B-cell therapies and how do they work their magic? Well, let me explain.

The Power of B-Cell Therapies

Picture this: your body’s immune system is an army trying to keep you healthy. B cells, the white blood cells in this army, play a crucial role in supporting your immune system. However, in MS, these B cells turn traitor and harm the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. Enter B-cell therapy. This revolutionary treatment uses drugs called monoclonal antibodies to wipe out the rogue B cells, preventing them from causing further damage.

Here’s the exciting part: B-cell therapy may not only slow down relapsing forms of MS, but it can also target primary progressive MS, the type that gradually worsens over time. While B-cell therapy doesn’t cure MS, it’s a powerful tool that can reduce disability and improve the quality of life for those living with this challenging condition.

A Menu of B-Cell Therapy Options

Now that you’re intrigued by the possibilities of B-cell therapy, you’re probably wondering what options are available. Let’s take a look at the FDA-approved B-cell therapies for MS:

  1. Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus): This treatment is administered through an IV at a hospital or doctor’s office and is suitable for both relapsing types of MS and primary progressive MS.

  2. Ofatumumab (Kesimpta): Here’s an option you can even administer at home with a prefilled autoinjector pen. It’s effective for relapsing MS and secondary progressive MS.

  3. Ublituximab-xiiy (Briumvi): As the first anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody approved for the treatment of relapsing multiple sclerosis, this therapy offers relief for various forms of the disease. The treatment begins with an IV dose over 4 hours, followed by a 1-hour infusion on day 15. After that, the drug is administered every 24 weeks.

It’s worth mentioning that while rituximab (Rituxan) isn’t yet FDA-approved for MS treatment, it is often used “off label” by doctors. Primarily prescribed for blood cancers, this therapy is administered through an IV at your doctor’s office.

Who’s a Good Match for B-Cell Therapy?

Now comes the million-dollar question: who is an ideal candidate for B-cell therapy? Initially, many doctors opt for more traditional MS therapies, such as interferon. However, Dr. Ben Thrower, the medical director of the Andrew C. Carlos MS Institute, believes in taking a more aggressive approach, especially for newly diagnosed patients. He believes that being proactive at the onset of MS is essential for maximizing functionality and living a fulfilling life for as long as possible.

That said, it’s crucial to consider the potential for side effects when pursuing B-cell therapy. While it can be highly effective, some individuals may experience allergic reactions, injection site reactions, a higher risk of infections, or even headaches. However, the benefits often outweigh the risks, particularly for those with progressive primary MS, as B-cell therapies have showcased promising results in preserving and preventing disability progression.

Navigating the Drawbacks and Looking Towards the Future

Of course, like any treatment, B-cell therapy has its drawbacks. It’s essential to evaluate your immunoglobulin levels before commencing therapy, ensuring your immune system is primed for it. Chronic infections like hepatitis B and C or tuberculosis may limit your eligibility for B-cell therapy.

There’s also the matter of cost. B-cell therapy can be expensive, so it’s vital to check your insurance coverage before diving in. Surprisingly, in certain situations, B-cell therapy may even be more cost-effective than interferon treatments. For example, Cherie Binns discovered that Medicare covered her therapy, making it more affordable than her previous private insurance.

Fortunately, the future looks bright. Researchers are developing biosimilars, nearly identical copies of rituximab, which could significantly drive down the cost of B-cell therapy. The prospect of more accessible treatment options brings hope to those living with MS.

A Glimpse into Patients’ Lives

Don’t just take our word for it – let’s hear some first-hand experiences. Cherie Binns, driven by her advocacy for MS patients, decided to undergo B-cell therapy after learning about its potential from Dr. Thrower’s talks. She now receives IV treatments every six months, giving her veins a break from continuous needle pricks. The best part? She can drive herself to the treatments, no longer dependent on others for transportation.

Kelly Eichman shares her success story too. Thanks to B-cell therapy, MRI scans show no new brain lesions. No new lesions mean better brain function, visible through improved memory and speech clarity. These transformations are truly life-changing.

If you’re considering B-cell therapy, remember to stay up to date on your vaccinations! Binns, for instance, has received three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, her body has yet to produce the protective antibodies against the virus. So she continues to wear a mask and encourages others to do the same. Remember, it takes time for your blood cells to repopulate and build antibodies after starting B-cell therapy. Before beginning treatment, consult your doctors about vaccination requirements and the timing in relation to your therapy.

Join the Conversation with Your Neurologist

Intrigued by the potential of B-cell therapies? Don’t hesitate to discuss this treatment option with your neurologist during your next visit. After all, you are an active participant in your own treatment decisions. Dr. Thrower encourages patients to have an open dialogue, ensuring that both the doctor’s expertise and the patient’s preferences align. It’s your health—let your voice be heard!

The world of MS treatment is advancing rapidly, and B-cell therapies are leading the way. They offer hope and promise for a better quality of life, reducing disability progression and relapse rates. If you’re ready to explore all your options, including B-cell therapy, take charge of your journey towards a healthier future.