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Early Drug Treatment May Cut Multiple Sclerosis Risk

Improved rates of prevention or delay of full-blown disease seen in treated study patients

TUESDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Among patients who show early signs of multiple sclerosis, treatment with a drug called glatiramer acetate appears to halve the risk that they will develop full-blown disease, new research suggests.

About 85 percent of patients who are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis first show signs of a "clinical event" that goes away. But many people who have this happen -- about one-third -- don't go on to develop the disease, and most of the rest won't be severely disabled, research has shown.

In the new study, published in Oct. 6 online edition of The Lancet, 481 people who showed possible signs of multiple sclerosis were assigned to receive either a placebo or glatiramer acetate for up to 36 months. The dosage for those who received the active drug was 20 milligrams per day.

The researchers found that glatiramer acetate reduced the risk of developing the disease by 45 percent compared to the placebo, and it took longer for some patients to develop the disease -- it was an average of about two years for those who took the drug compared to about one year for those who didn't.

Injection-related side effects were common: more than half of those who were given glatiramer acetate developed problems around the site of their injections, and about 19 percent had reactions right after receiving the treatment. By comparison, 24 percent of those who were given the placebo had reactions at the site of their injections, and only 5 percent had problems immediately after the treatment, according to the study authors.

"This study establishes glatiramer acetate as an option for patients with clinically isolated syndrome who choose to start treatment early to improve control of the underlying disease process," the researchers concluded.

More information

Learn more about multiple sclerosis from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Oct. 6, 2009

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