The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the drug Alemtuzumab, to be known by the brand name Lemtrada and previously called Campath-1H (for ‘Cambridge Pathology 1st Human’), for the treatment of MS.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks nerve fibres and their protective insulation, the myelin sheath, in the brain and spinal cord. The resulting damage prevents the nerves from ‘firing’ properly and ultimately leads to their destruction, resulting in physical and cognitive disabilities.
Alemtuzumab reboots the immune system by first depleting a key class of immune cells, called lymphocytes. The system then repopulates, leading to a modified immune response that no longer regards myelin and nerves as foreign. But in so doing, roughly one third of MS patients develop another autoimmune disease after Alemtuzumab, mainly targeting the thyroid gland and more rarely other tissues especially blood platelets.
Multiple sclerosis affects almost 100,000 people in the UK, 400,000 in the US and several million worldwide. Symptoms of the disease can include loss of physical skills, sensation, vision, bladder control, and intellectual abilities.
Although approved for use in EU, the drug has not yet been assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for the treatment of MS.