MS Pills Show Promise and Risk

MS Pills Show Promise and Risk

ATLANTA (AP) -- Tests of the first two oral drugs developed for
treating multiple sclerosis show that both cut the frequency of
relapses and may slow progression of the disease, but with side
effects that could pose a tough decision for patients.

Two experts not involved in the studies said the drugs appear
effective but with potentially dangerous side effects. It's too soon
to know if the pills will be approved by the government or widely
adopted by physicians, they said.

About 2.5 million people around the world have multiple sclerosis, a
neurological disease that can cause muscle tremors, paralysis and
problems with speech, memory and concentration. The studies involve
the most common form of the disease, in which people are well for a
while and then suffer periodic relapses.

Current treatments can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms
but require daily or regular shots or infusions.

The new studies tested two types of pills. Cladribine, made by Merck
Serono, is already sold to treat a rare blood cancer. For MS, it would
be taken eight to 10 days a year. Fingolimod is a daily MS pill being
developed by Novartis.

The research found that patients on the pills were about half as
likely to suffer relapses of symptoms as those who took dummy pills or
a commonly prescribed shot for MS.

But they also found both drugs significantly lowered immune defenses
that allowed latent herpes viruses to rage in some patients -- in one
study, two people died of unchecked herpes infections.

The side effects detailed in the new studies are giving some
physicians pause.

''There is a price tag attached'' to the new medications, said Dr.
Silva Markovic-Plese, an MS researcher at the University of North

people with MS typical of those in this group will flock to their docs
to get this dangerous medication...death, unchecked herpes infections
- yeah, that's the ticket