Immune-Suppressing Drugs for MS Treatment - dummies

Immune-Suppressing Drugs for MS Treatment

By Rosalind Kalb, Barbara Giesser, Kathleen Costello

A variety of immunosuppressants are currently used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS). Even though the FDA hasn’t approved their specific use in MS, the following immunosuppressants are used by some neurologists when the FDA-approved treatments have not been successful:

  • Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide): Cytoxan is a potent immunosuppressive drug that’s usually given to treat cancer. It has been used for treating MS for many years, but mostly in uncontrolled studies where it was often (but not always) reported to improve the condition of people with primary- or secondary-progressive MS.

  • CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil): CellCept is an immunosuppressant that has primarily been used in combination with other medications to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ. It’s also used to treat some autoimmune conditions, including MS.

  • Imuran (azathioprine): Imuran suppresses the immune system and is commonly used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also part of the chemotherapy regimen for some cancers.

  • Leustatin (cladribine): Leustatin is a medication that has been used to treat hairy cell leukemia. Cladribine has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the rate of MS relapses and reduce the number of lesions seen on MRI. However, the FDA or the European regulatory agency hasn’t approved it for use in MS because of concerns over the long-term safety of the medication.

  • Methotrexate: Methotrexate is a synthetic immunosuppressive drug that’s highly effective in the short term against rheumatoid arthritis. At least one study found it useful in treating secondary-progressive MS.

If you’re a woman or man of baby-making age, you need to consider the possible impact of any of these immunosuppressant medications on fertility. Because immunosuppressants can temporarily or permanently interfere with the menstrual cycle or damage eggs and sperm, you may want to consider storing some of your eggs or sperm for future use.

And, remember, none of these medications are safe for use during pregnancy because they can harm the developing fetus.