I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the new oral therapy, Tecfidera, approved by the FDA last spring for multiple sclerosis. It’s the third oral drug aimed at treating my disease.
In one of the many articles announcing the news, the New York Times wrote: “While self-injected medicines like Avonex from Biogen and Copaxone from Teva that entered the market in the 1990s are still used by the majority of treated patients, newer oral drugs are making inroads. In addition to Tecfidera, the other two oral drugs are Gilenya from Novartis, approved in 2010, and Aubagio from Sanofi, approved in September.”
I’m still on my injection therapy, Copaxone, but I consider this new drug to be great progress for the MS world. I think back to 1994 when I was diagnosed; at the time there was only one therapy available. One! I was on Betaseron for over two years before switching to the new Avonex because a once-a-week injection sounded much more appealing than an every-other-day injection. But I suffered from horrible side effects while on both therapies. I felt like I had the flu 24/7, making it difficult to work full time and take care of my baby boy as a single mother.
When Copaxone hit the market in 1999, I was eager to try it. I’d done my research and knew the side-effect profile was much different from the therapies I’d been struggling with for five years. It is a daily injection, which I know a lot of people have a hard time with. But I decided that I would rather give myself a shot every day if it means my body will tolerate it without the miserable flu-like side effects. I’ve been taking my daily injection — or my daily dose of hope, as I like to call it — ever since.
I’m not symptom free, but I’ll be sticking (pun intended) to my injection therapy for now. The oral therapies are new and the proof that they work as well as injection drugs isn’t convincing enough for me. Not yet, anyway. I will admit that taking a pill once or twice a day sounds like a nice change from what I’ve been doing for more than 14 years. But as the saying goes, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
As an MS patient advocate, I have the opportunity to speak to many others who share my disease. A lot of these patients are newly diagnosed and have no idea which therapy is best for them; it’s always a personal decision for the patient to make with the guidance of his or her neurologist. I encourage everyone to be on some type of therapy, no matter how long they’ve had MS and even if they’re currently symptom free.
Why not do something to slow the disease down if you can? If one therapy isn’t working for you, try a different one. That’s what’s so nice about how far we’ve come in the past 20 years. Patients have a lot of choices now.
But we’re still not where we need to be because we don’t have a cure.
The FDA reminds us of this in its press release about the new drug Tecfidera: “No drug provides a cure for multiple sclerosis so it is important to have a variety of treatment options available for patients,” said Russell Katz, M.D., director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Multiple sclerosis can impair movement, sensation, and thinking and have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life.”
So let’s stick with a therapy that works for us and do our best to stay healthy until we can get that cure.