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Archive for the month “July, 2015”

Case of PML Reported in Person Taking Tecfidera®

In December 2014, important label changes were made to the prescribing information for Tecfidera® (dimethyl fumarate, Biogen Idec) including information regarding an individual who developed PML. Most recently, Biogen has confirmed report of a second case of PML (progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a viral infection of the brain that often leads to death or severe disability) that occurred in a person taking Tecfidera. According to the company, the 64-year-old patient has primary progressive MS and experienced severe and prolonged lymphopenia (decreased white blood cells) during treatment with Tecfidera. Severe and prolonged lymphopenia is a known risk factor for PML and Consideration should be given to interrupting treatment if lymphocyte counts are low for more than six months. The patient is stable and is not hospitalized. Biogen has reported the case to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
PML is caused by the re-activation of a virus called the JC (John Cunningham) virus, a common virus to which many people have been exposed. PML has emerged in people using other medications, including the MS treatment Tysabri® (natalizumab, Biogen), and the MS treatment Gilenya® (fingolimod, Novartis AG).
It is not possible at this point to determine a person’s risk for developing PML because there have been so few cases in people taking Tecfidera. There have been two reported cases of PML in people with MS among the more than 155,000 individuals who have been treated with Tecfidera to date.
The symptoms of PML are diverse and can be similar to MS symptoms. For this reason, individuals should be alert to any new or worsening symptoms and report them promptly to their MS healthcare provider. Learn more about the risk factors and symptoms of PML from the web site of The PML Consortium. Individuals who have concerns about this report should discuss it with their MS healthcare providers.
If and when the FDA or Biogen provide additional information or recommendations for people taking Tecfidera or other MS medications, the National MS Society will share it as soon as possible.

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Recent Update to Gilenya Prescribing Information

 A recent warning and precaution has been added to the prescribing information for Gilenya® (fingolimod, Novartis AG), an oral disease-modifying therapy for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis. The warning adds Cryptococcal fungal infections to the list of possible infections for which people taking Gilenya are at increased risk. Anyone receiving this or other medications that can compromise immune system function should promptly report any new or worsening symptoms – both MS-like symptoms and other symptoms – to their neurologist.
The updated prescribing information approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that there have been cases of cryptococcal infections, including cryptococcal meningitis, reported in people taking Gilenya. Individuals and their healthcare providers should be alert to symptoms and signs that could indicate cryptococcal meningitis. This rare condition can be managed if it is diagnosed and treated promptly.
Cryptococcus is a type of fungus that is commonly found in the soil throughout the world. The fungus becomes airborne and people may breathe in microscopic amounts. Most people never get sick from breathing the fungus; cryptococcus typically infects people who have compromised immune system function – which can occur from illness, or due to the effect of some medications, including some medications that are prescribed to treat MS.
Infection with cryptococcus is uncommon, but it can be very serious and even lead to death if untreated. It is important to recognize the infection early and treat it promptly. The usual sites for cryptococcal infections are the lungs and the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Symptoms of a lung infection may include:
• cough
• chest discomfort
• shortness of breath
• low grade fever
• weight loss
• a general sense of feeling unwell
Central nervous system infections may produce numerous symptoms including:
• headache
• confusion
• stiff neck
• light sensitivity
• mild fever
• nausea and vomiting
• vision change
• unsteady walking
• change in speech
• seizures
• abnormal muscle movements
The increased risk of many types of infection is also pertinent to people with MS who are receiving other powerful immune modifying or suppressing therapies. Therefore, it is important when receiving medications that can compromise immune system function to promptly report any new or worsening symptoms – both MS-like symptoms and other symptoms, such as those mentioned above – to your neurologist. It is also important to speak to with your doctor before making any changes to your medications.

Download the updated prescribing information (.pdf)

Download the updated medication guide for patients (.pdf)

Study reveals brain network responsible for cognitive changes in multiple sclerosis

An estimated 2.3 million individuals are living with multiple sclerosis (MS) worldwide. Approximately half of all individuals with MS experience changes in cognition such as impaired concentration, attention, memory, and judgment. The underlying brain basis for these deleterious effects has been largely elusive. New findings published yesterday in Neuropsychology reveal that decreased connectivity between network-specific brain regions are to blame for the central deficit common to the various cognitive changes associated with MS, slowed cognitive speed.
In the first study of its kind, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that, compared to healthy controls, individuals with MS exhibit weaker brain connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior brain regions. The change amounts to a breakdown in communication between the part of the brain responsible for executing goal-directed thought and action and the regions responsible for carrying out tasks related to cognitive speed such as visual processing, motor execution, and object recognition. The researchers believe that the diminished connections are likely the result of decreased white matter surrounding the neurons in the brain.

“Our study is the first to really zero in on the physiology of cognitive speed, the central cognitive deficit in MS,” explained Center for BrainHealth principal investigator Bart Rypma, Ph.D., who also holds the Meadows Foundation Chair at UT Dallas. “While white matter is essential to efficient network communication, white matter degradation is symptomatic of MS. This study really highlights how tightly coupled connectivity is to performance and illuminates the larger, emerging picture of white matter’s importance in human cognitive performance.”

Collaborating with Elliot Frohman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program and Clinical Center at UT Southwestern, the study recruited 29 participants with relapsing-remitting MS and 23 age- and sex- matched healthy controls. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while completing a measure of cognitive processing speed. Participants were given 4 seconds to view a nine-item key of number and symbol pairs (for example ‘+’ above the number 3) and one number-symbol pair probe. Participants were asked to indicate with a left or right thumb button press whether or not the probe appeared in the key.

While accuracy was similar for both healthy controls and individuals with MS, response times for individuals with MS were much slower. Analysis of the fMRI data revealed that while completing this measure, MS patients showed weaker functional connections with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

“These findings reveal a diffuse pattern of disconnectivity with executive areas of the brain,” explained the study’s lead author, Nicholas Hubbard, a doctoral candidate at the Center for BrainHealth working with Dr. Rypma. “Importantly, these decreases in connectivity predicted MS-related cognitive slowing both in and out of the fMRI environment suggesting that these results were not specific to our task, but rather were able to generalize to other situations where cognitive speed is required.”

This research supports the need for therapies that target white matter structures and white matter proliferation. Rypma and Hubbard are currently conducting research to further explore the physiology of white matter to better understand cognitive speed reductions not only in MS, but also in healthy aging individuals.

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