Drug teriflunomide may delay earliest symptoms of multiple sclerosis

A drug called teriflunomide may delay first symptoms for people whose magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans show signs of multiple sclerosis (MS) even though they do not yet have symptoms of the disease.

The preliminary study, released April 19, 2023, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting, being held in person in Boston and live online from April 22-27, 2023. Called radiologically isolated syndrome, the condition is diagnosed in people who do not have MS symptoms but who have abnormalities in the brain or spinal cord called lesions, similar to those seen in MS.

MS is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks myelin, the fatty white substance that insulates and protects the nerves. Symptoms of MS may include fatigue, numbness, tingling or difficulty walking.

“With more and more people having brain scans for various reasons, such as headache or head trauma, more of these cases are being discovered, and many of these people go on to develop MS,” said study author Christine Lebrun Frenay, MD, of the University Hospital of Nice in France and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “The sooner a person can be treated for MS, the greater the chances of delaying damage to the myelin, which decreases the risk of permanent neurologic impairment and debilitating symptoms.”

The study involved 89 people with radiologically isolated syndrome. Half of the people were given 14 milligrams (mg) of teriflunomide daily and the other half were given a placebo. They were followed for up to two years.

During the study, eight people who took the drug developed MS symptoms, compared to 20 who took the placebo.

After adjusting for other factors that could affect the risk of developing symptoms, researchers found that people taking teriflunomide had a 72% lower risk of experiencing first symptoms than those taking the placebo.

“Our findings suggest that early intervention with teriflunomide may be beneficial to those diagnosed with radiologically isolated syndrome, the presymptomatic phase of MS,” Lebrun Frenay said. “However, more research is needed in larger groups of people to confirm our findings. Additionally, it is important that medical professionals are cautious when using MRI expertise to diagnose this condition, selecting only patients at risk of developing MS and not increasing MRI misdiagnoses.”

The study was supported by Sanofi, the company that makes teriflunomide.

Learn more about multiple sclerosis at BrainandLife.org, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health. Follow Brain & Life® on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with over 40,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

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Dr. Lebrun Frenay will present the study findings at 6:24 p.m. ET, Tuesday, April 25, in the Room 253 AB Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Please send an email to [email protected] to schedule an advance interview.

Emerging Science abstracts are embargoed until 12:01 a.m., ET, Friday, April 21, 2023, unless otherwise noted by the Academy’s Media and Public Relations Department.

To access Non-emerging Science abstracts to be presented at the 2023 AAN Annual Meeting, visit https://www.aan.com/events/annual-meeting-abstracts-awards.

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