From Neighborhood Newspapers
New drug helps fight against multiple sclerosis
Local physician explains the benefits of Tysabri
By JAN HOGAN VIEW STAFF WRITER
A, B, C, R and now T. Medical research is changing the alphabet for those with multiple sclerosis.
A new drug, called Tysabri (pronounced Ty-SAB-Ree) was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Local neurologist Dr. Leo Germin, 1399 Galleria Drive in Henderson, had so many patients asking about it, he and the pharmaceutical company which makes Tysabri held an informational meeting at JW Marriott in Summerlin.
"This new agent reduces relapses by two-thirds," Germin told the dozens of patients assembled there. "It's twice as effective as anything we've had before, and that's a big deal."
MS affects everyone differently. The disease causes white blood cells to attack brain neurons and, in effect, short circuits messages to the rest of the body.
Some patients have relapsing symptoms, others get progressively worse. Over time, the size of the brain shrinks as tissues die off.
The chronic disease affects roughly 400,000 people in the United States. Many will progress to the point where they need a wheelchair and 24/7 care if they do not go on therapeutic medication.
But even people on the old drugs were aware their effectiveness wasn't encouraging. Those medications --- Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone and Rebif --- were shown to help only 37, 29, 22 and 12 percent (respectively) of patients taking them.
In clinical trials, Tysabri reduced the rate of relapses by up to 66 percent and reduced the development of new or newly enlarging MRI-detected brain lesions. That number was even higher for test patients on both Tysabri and Avonex.
Northwest Las Vegas resident Kenneth Shade, 45, was at the JW Marriott to learn about the new drug. He began experiencing paralysis in his legs and a spastic bladder 11 years ago but was not officially diagnosed with MS until February 1998. He opted not to go on any of the therapy drugs then available.
"I wondered if the side effects were worth it," Shade said. "That was until about two years ago when I lost the vision in my right eye, which was really scary. It kind of made me think. So ... I'm here to learn more."
Delores Heffren, 62, of Green Valley, began having symptoms 30 years ago. She first realized something was wrong when she stepped into a bathtub filled with water. One leg registered no sensation. But the other was nearly scalded by the too-hot water. The woman who was always eager to hit the dance floor now uses a walker and electric scooter to get around.
"I have times when I can barely walk," she said. "But thanks to Dr. Germin, he comes up with these miracle drugs. I'm hoping this new drug will prevent me from getting worse."
The meeting used a PowerPoint presentation that included MRI slides of patients with MS. Germin used visuals like two red balls affixed with Velcro to demonstrate how MS causes cells to cling together.
He also pulled out a yellow "Do Not Cross" police tape when explaining how the brain normally has a natural barrier to keep out marauding white blood cells. The barrier is compromised in people with MS.
The new drug, as it was explained in layman's terms, approaches the disease in a new way. It essentially makes the marauding white blood cells too slick to stick to blood vessel walls. If they can't stick, they can't worm their way past the barrier and into the brain.
In an unusual move, the FDA fast-tracked the drug to get it to market. The only stipulation it made was a name change (in trials it was called Antegren) to ensure the handwriting on prescriptions was not mistaken for Avonex.
Like the other treatments, the new drug still comes with transient side effects, including headache, fatigue and joint aches. It is administered in a clinical setting intravenously. It also is expensive, reportedly about $23,000 a year.