As 2021 comes to a close, it’s a good time to look back on all of the news that affected people with multiple sclerosis (MS) during the past 12 months. Although it was a busy year and the news cycle is endless, MyHealthTeam editors have picked out a few stories that were significant to individuals who are living with MS.
During 2020, three drugs were approved to treat MS, so many people with the condition were hoping for a similar cadence this year. And although 2021 wasn’t quite as busy, individuals with MS still had cause for celebration when one new medication hit the market in 2021: Ponvory (ponesimod). The disease-modifying therapy (DMT) was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in March to treat adults with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis.
Plus, the FDA approved an additional version of Plegridy (peginterferon beta 1a) in March. Plegridy was initially approved in 2014 as an injection under the skin, but this year, the agency also allowed a version of the DMT that’s injected into the thigh muscle every two weeks to treat relapsing forms of MS.
The FDA also approved Purified Cortrophin Gel (repository corticotropin injection USP) — an alternative to corticosteroids — in November as a treatment for MS relapses in adults. This medication is expected to be available in early 2022.
Several other MS treatments are currently in clinical trials, so more news could emerge in the new year as the FDA reviews the study results of those options.
People with MS may find it challenging to decide when to reveal their MS diagnosis to others, and celebrities are no different. While some announce their MS status upon diagnosis, others may wait to discuss the condition. This past year, quite a few celebrities came forward to talk about living with MS, bringing more exposure to the disease.
Actor Christina Applegate revealed in August that she had been diagnosed with MS several months prior. She referred to her new diagnosis again in November, upon her 50th birthday. “Yup. I turned 50 today. And I have MS. It's been a hard one," she wrote on Twitter. “May we find that strength to lift our heads up. Mine currently is on my pillow. But I try.”
Other actors also discussed their MS journeys this year. Selma Blair said in August that she had entered remission from MS following treatment with a stem cell transplant.
Jamie-Lynn Sigler noted how her “Sopranos” co-star James Gandolfini had supported her when she was initially diagnosed with MS. “There was a time in the maybe fourth or fifth season where I was dealing with my divorce privately and my diagnosis of MS and a lot of other stuff that I wasn't talking to people about, and he really stepped up,” she revealed in November as part of the new oral history of “The Sopranos,” titled “Woke Up This Morning.”
News anchor John King announced in October that he’d been living with MS. In fact, King was diagnosed with the condition 13 years ago and said he had waited to announce the diagnosis in part due to the public perception of MS. “One of the reasons I’ve been reluctant to talk publicly about this is because I worry, ‘There’s that guy on TV. He has MS. He’s fine. It must not be a big deal,’” he told People. “MS is viciously cruel to people who get aggressive, progressive multiple sclerosis. It takes them from dancing to a wheelchair, sometimes in a period of months. It's horrible. It impacts every hour of my life. But I am incredibly lucky because mine is not aggressive, and because I have great doctors and great medical care.”
Because news about COVID-19 dominated the news cycle this year, it’s important to note studies were performed involving people with MS and how they reacted to vaccines that guard against COVID-19. Fortunately, the news coming out of the studies demonstrated that the vaccines were safe and effective in individuals with MS.
One study, conducted between March and June of this year, followed the outcomes of 719 people with MS, most of whom received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations. The investigators found that participants experienced vaccine reactions similar to those of people in the general population, and that individuals taking some DMTs were less likely to experience reactions, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society indicated.
Another study, published in September, found that individuals with MS who take CD20 immunosuppressive medications were capable of mounting antibody responses to the COVID-19 messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccinations, which include those from Pfizer and Moderna. Importantly, however, their responses were not as strong as the study participants who did not have MS. That study followed 20 participants with MS who were treated with anti-CD20 therapy and 10 healthy volunteers.
Additional studies are underway to evaluate the responses of people with MS to the COVID-19 vaccines, and more news may emerge on this topic in 2022.