There’s no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS) yet. But in recent years, new medications have become available to help slow the progression of the disease and manage its symptoms. Researchers continue to develop new treatments and learn more about the causes and risk factors for the condition.
Read on to learn about some of the latest treatment breakthroughs and promising avenues of research.
Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) are the main group of medications used to treat MS. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved more than a dozen DMTs for different types of MS.
Most recently, the FDA has approved:
- Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus). It treats relapsing forms of MS and primary progressive MS (PPMS). This is the
first DMTto be approved for PPMS and the only one approved for all four types of MS.
- Fingolimod (Gilenya). This drug treats pediatric MS. It was already approved for adults. In 2018, it became the first DMT to be approved
- Higher doses of glatiramer acetate injections (Glatopa). The FDA previously approved this medication at a daily dose of 20 milligrams (mg). It’s now been approved to be taken three times a week at a dose of 40 mg.
- Cladribine (Mavenclad). It's approved to treat relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) as well as secondary progressive MS (SPMS).
- Siponimod (Mayzent). It's approved to treat RRMS, SPMS, and clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). In a phase III clinical trial, it effectively reduced the rate of relapse in people with SPMS. Compared to a placebo, it cut the relapse rate in half.
- Diroximel fumarate (Vumerity). This drug is approved to treat RRMS, SPMS, and CIS. It's similar to dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera), an older DMT. However, it causes fewer gastrointestinal side effects.
While new treatments have been approved, another medication has been removed from pharmacy shelves.
In March 2018, daclizumab (Zinbryta) was withdrawn from markets around the world. After taking this medication for MS, multiple people developed inflammation in their brains. This drug is no longer available to treat MS.
Several other medications are working their way through the research pipeline. In recent studies, some of these medications have shown promise for treating MS. For example:
- The results of a new phase II clinical trial suggest that ibudilast might help reduce the progression of disability in people with MS. To learn more about this medication, the manufacturer plans to conduct a phase III clinical trial.
- The findings of a small study published in 2017 suggest that clemastine fumarate might help restore the protective coating around nerves in people with relapsing forms of MS. This oral antihistamine is currently available over the counter. More research is needed to study its potential benefits and risks for treating MS.
These are only a few of the treatments currently being studied. To learn about current and future clinical trials for MS, visit ClinicalTrials.gov.
Thanks to the development of new medications for MS, people have a growing number of treatment options to choose from.
To help guide their decisions, scientists are using large databases and statistical analyses to try to pinpoint the best treatment options for different types of patients, reports the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. Eventually, this research might help patients and doctors learn which treatments are most likely to work for them.
To understand the causes and risk factors of MS, geneticists and other scientists are combing the human genome for clues. Members of the International MS Genetics Consortium have identified more than 200 genetic variants associated with MS. For example, a recent study identified four new genes linked to the condition.
Eventually, findings like this might help scientists develop new strategies and tools to predict, prevent, and treat MS.
In recent years, scientists have also started to study the role that bacteria and other microbes in our guts might play in the development and progression of MS. This community of bacteria is known as our gut microbiome.
Not all bacteria are harmful. In fact, many “friendly” bacteria live in our bodies and help regulate our immune systems. When the balance of bacteria in our bodies is off, it can lead to inflammation. This might contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, including MS.
Research into the gut microbiome might help scientists understand why and how people develop MS. It could also pave the way for new treatment approaches, including dietary interventions and other therapies.
Scientists continue to gain new insight into the risk factors and causes of MS as well as potential treatment strategies. New medications have been approved in recent years. Others have shown promise in clinical trials.
These advancements are helping improve the health and well-being of the many people who live with this condition while bolstering hopes for a potential cure.