Long-standing Drug Treatment May Prolong Life for MS Patients

Study is the first and largest of its kind to examine mortality associated with beta interferons, the first drugs to be approved for the treatment of relapsing-onset multiple sclerosis.

A widely prescribed drug for multiple sclerosis (MS) was found to be associated with long-term survival for patients in a new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

Published in the journal Brain, the study found that patients with MS who took a beta interferon drug had a 32% lower mortality risk than those who did not take the drug. This was evident among patients with MS who took beta interferon for more than 3 years, according to the researchers.

The study followed nearly 6000 patients with MS in Canada and France for more than 2 decades. It is the first and largest of its kind to examine mortality associated with beta interferons, the first drugs to be approved for the treatment of relapsing-onset MS. Beta interferons have been used to treat MS longer than any other disease-modifying therapy.

According to the press release, the researchers followed 5989 patients with relapsing-onset MS from as early as 1986 until 2013, in British Columbia and France, to determine which disease-modifying drugs they took and how long they survived. The mean age of the study participants (who had not received drug treatments for MS before the start of the study) was 42 years. The mean age at death for the 742 people who did not survive to the end of the study was 61.

The findings were consistent between the 2 geographic groups and between men and women. Patients with MS who took beta interferon for at least 6 months had a reduced mortality risk compared with patients with MS who did not take beta interferon. Taking the drug for more than 3 years had an even stronger association with increased survival. Moreover, increased survival was noted even for individuals who started the drug after age 40 or 5 or more years after disease onset.

Senior author Helen Tremlett, PhD, professor in the division of neurology at UBC and the Canada Research Chair in neuroepidemiology and MS, caution that longevity of life is not the only pertinent aspect of further research.

“Now that we know that life might be extended for people with MS who take these drugs, we do have to consider quality of life,” she said in a press release. “Further research to look at this aspect of treatment outcomes is certainly warranted.”

The researchers said they will next look at the association between survival with some of the newer MS drugs. Tremlett has received a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to further this work.