This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first disease modifying therapy (DMT) proven to be effective for relapsing-remitting MS – interferon beta 1b (‘Betafeon’). This DMT was first used in the US and became available in Australia two years later.
It was a breakthrough medication, the first shown in clinical trials to reduce relapse rates and delay the onset of disability. Before the availability of interferon beta 1b, treatment for MS was largely confined to the use of systemic corticosteroids to manage relapses and short-term symptom management.
Since then, the availability of DMTs has steadily grown, with Australia among the world leaders when it comes to accessibility to the largest range of DMTs with improved effectiveness in both reducing relapses and delaying progression of the disease.
While some of these early generation interferons are being gradually withdrawn from the Australian ‘market’, encouragingly, we continue to have new medications being approved and subsidised by the Australian government – an enviable position to be in.
We look forward to the development of even more effective medications in the coming years. In particular, we are excited about the clinical trial OCTOPUS, which has commenced recruiting participants in the UK.
This trial is looking to see if already existing medications, currently used for treating other conditions, could be effective at treating progressive forms of MS. This is based on evidence that they may have properties to repair previously damaged myelin, or be neuroprotective.
Additionally, there are several phase 3 trials underway for the next generation of potential treatments for relapsing remitting MS – and possibly also for progressive forms of MS – Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitors.
We look forward to hearing of the progress of these trials, possibly as early as the ECTRIMS Conference to be held in Milan in October 2023. So, it’s a good time to take stock and see just how far we’ve come in the past three decades.
Here, at MS Australia, we are looking to play an active role in advocating and supporting the development of new treatments, especially for progressive forms of MS, as well as finding ways to detect the signs of MS ultra early in the disease course and develop early interventions that could stop progression to clinically definite MS.
We have come a long way over the past three decades, but the big breakthroughs still lie ahead. With strong investment in research, we will be heading down the pathways to cures further and faster than ever before.
For the full range of medications available for MS in Australia, see our website.