Hauser's study included 104 people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Someone with this type of MS will have disease flare-ups but will also have periods of remission when they don't have symptoms.
The volunteers were randomly assigned to receive either 1,000 milligrams of intravenous rituximab or a placebo. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was conducted at 12, 16, 20 and 24 weeks to assess the number of inflammatory lesions -- a hallmark of MS -- present in the brain.
The number of lesions was reduced in people taking rituximab, and the number of people who had no new lesions was significantly less in those taking rituximab than in those taking a placebo, both during the study and six months later.
The rate of relapse was also significantly reduced for those on rituximab. At the end of the 48-week study period, 20.3 percent of those on rituximab had experienced a relapse versus 40 percent of those on placebo.
What both Hauser and Richert found most exciting was the speed at which rituximab worked and the duration of the benefit, which continued long after the treatment had been administered.
"Beneficial effects were seen by four weeks," said Richert. "Among the reasons why these data are so exciting is that the effects persist after 48 weeks after one course of rituximab."
People taking rituximab did experience more side effects, though most of them were minor. "The big question is whether removal of B-cells will impact the immune system later," said Hauser.
Both Hauser and Richert said this study has also provided new information about the MS disease process, and it will likely open up additional avenues of MS research.
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