Study Shows Beta Interferon Treatment Improves Long-Term Survival in MS

Patients taking beta interferons for at least 6 months had a reduced mortality risk compared with patients who did not take the drug.

A new study indicates that beta interferons, one of the most commonly prescribed disease-modifying drugs for multiple sclerosis (MS), may be tied to improved survival outcomes in patients.

In the first and largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute aimed to assess mortality associated with beta interferons for the treatment of MS. The study, which was published in Brain, found that patients taking beta interferons had a longer survival rate than those who did not take the drug, with the strongest effect seen in patients who took beta interferons for more than 3 years.

Beta interferons were the first drugs approved for the treatment of relapsing-onset MS, which is the most common form of the disease. With proven long-term efficacy and safety, beta interferons have been a mainstay of MS treatment since the 1990s.

For the study, the researchers used data from 5989 patients with relapsing-onset MS who were initially registered at a clinic in British Columbia, Canada or Rennes, France. These patients were followed from their first MS-related clinic visit, 18th birthday, or January 1, 1996, until death, emigration, or December 31, 2013.

Overall, the results were consistent between the 2 geographic groups, as well as between men and women in the study. In total, patients with MS who took beta interferons had a 32% lower mortality risk than those who did not take the drug.

The study showed that patients who took beta interferons for at least 6 months had a reduced mortality risk compared with patients who did not take beta interferons. Additionally, the researchers found that treatment with beta interferons for more than 3 years had an even stronger association with increased survival. This improved survival effect was seen even in patients who started beta interferons after age 40 or 5 or more years after disease onset, the researchers noted.

Because beta interferons are widely used, the findings about their longevity benefits are encouraging. However, the researchers noted other considerations that should affect a patient’s treatment, such as quality of life.

“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,” senior author Helen Tremlett, PhD, professor in the division of neurology at UBC and the Canada Research Chair in neuroepidemiology and MS, said in a press release. “Further research to look at this aspect of treatment outcomes is certainly warranted.”


Kingwell E, Leray E, Zhu F, et al. Multiple sclerosis: effect of beta interferon treatment on survival. Brain. March 2019.

Common treatment for multiple sclerosis may prolong life [news release]. The University of British Columbia. Accessed March 19, 2019.