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Top 5 Medications Used by MyMSTeam Members

Posted on January 11, 2023
Article written by
Ted Samson

Nearly 30 years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first disease-modifying therapy (DMT) for MS: Betaseron, a formulation of interferon beta-1b. Since then, the FDA has approved around 20 additional DMTs — more than half of which secured approval in the past 10 years. This flurry of new treatments means people living with MS have an abundance of options to help reduce flares and slow disease progression.

Thousands of MyMSTeam members have self-reported which DMTs they’ve tried. In this article, we’ll take a look at which DMTs have been used most by members and what trends they reveal.

Bear in mind that “most prescribed DMTs” doesn’t necessarily mean “best DMTs” nor “most effective DMTs.” MS affects everyone differently, and some medications work better for some people than for others. Additionally, some DMTs are only prescribed for certain types of MS. It’s also the case that older medications have been used by more people, since they’ve been available for longer.

What Are DMTs?

MS is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks their central nervous system, eroding the myelin coating around the nerves. DMTs, also called disease-modifying treatments, target a person’s immune system in different ways to reduce attacks on the central nervous system.

DMTs are administered in one of three ways:

  • Orally (by mouth)
  • Through subcutaneous injections (shots)
  • Via intravenous (IV) infusions delivered into a vein using a needle

DMTs differ from other MS medications like corticosteroids or prednisone, which address specific symptoms of MS but don’t slow disease progression or prevent new flares.

Notably, nearly a dozen DMTs are considered highly effective (HE), based on how they’ve performed in clinical trials — research studies that test the effectiveness and safety of drugs.

DMT Use Reported by MyMSTeam Members

The table below lists the FDA-approved DMTs MyMSTeam members have reported using, and how many members have used each (as of this article’s publication date). The chart also includes whether each treatment is considered highly effective.

DMTs Used by MyMSTeam Members
MyMSTeam members have self-reported which DMTs they’ve tried over the years. Here’s the list, from the most prescribed to least prescribed. Note: It’s common for one member to have switched DMTs and used several over time.
Drug (Brand) MyMSTeam Members Reported Taking Year of FDA Approval How It’s Taken Highly Effective DMT?
Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone, Glatopa) 27,421 1996 Injection No
Interferon beta-1a (Avonex, Rebif) 21,787 1996 Injection No
Dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) 16,672 2013 Orally No
Natalizumab (Tysabri) 11,069 2004 Infusion Yes
Fingolimod (Gilenya) 8,835 2010 Orally Yes
Interferon beta-1b (Betaseron, Extavia) 6,282 1993 Injection No
Teriflunomide (Aubagio) 4,734 2012 Orally No
Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) 3,977 2017 Infusion Yes
Peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy) 1,076 2014 Injection No
Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) 961 2014 Infusion Yes
Rituximab (Rituxan) 917 Not FDA-approved for MS; prescribed off-label Infusion Yes
Mitoxantrone (Novantrone) 201 2000 Infusion Yes
Cladribine (Mavenclad) 169 2019 Orally Yes
Diroximel fumarate (Vumerity) 78 2019 Orally No
Siponimod (Mayzent) 74 2019 Orally Yes
Ozanimod (Zeposia) 21 2020 Orally Yes
Ponesimod (Ponvory) 1 2021 Orally No
Monomethyl fumarate (Bafiertam) 0 2020 Orally No
Ofatumumab (Kesimpta) 0 2020 Orally Yes

MyMSTeam Members’ Top 5 Most Commonly Taken DMTs

Following are the five DMTs that most MyMSTeam members have reported taking, along with more detail about each medication.

1. Glatiramer Acetate

The FDA has approved various formulations of glatiramer acetate over the years: Copaxone in 1996, Glatopa and other generic versions in 2015. It’s indicated for multiple forms of MS, including clinically isolated syndrome, relapsing-remitting MS, and secondary progressive MS. The drug is injected subcutaneously (under the skin).

Glatiramer acetate is an immunomodulator. The drug incorporates several of the amino acids (protein molecules) that make up myelin. Scientists believe glatiramer acetate may act as a decoy for the immune system to attack instead.

A total of 27,421 MyMSTeam members report having used a formulation of glatiramer acetate.

2. Interferon Beta-1a

Interferon beta-1a was one of the first DMTs approved for MS. The FDA approved the first formulation of the drug, Avonex, in 1996, and the second, Rebif, in 2002. Both are administered as injections.

Like glatiramer acetate, interferon beta-1a is indicated for various forms of MS.

Interferon beta-1a is also an immunomodulator. Beta interferons are human-made versions of interferons, proteins the body naturally produces to reduce inflammation. Less inflammation means less nerve damage from MS.

A total of 21,787 MyMSTeam members have reported using a formulation of interferon beta-1a.

3. Dimethyl Fumarate

The FDA approved a formulation of dimethyl fumarate in 2013 called Tecfidera. The drug is taken orally — usually twice per day. It’s indicated for adults with relapsing types of MS.

Dimethyl fumarate is an Nrf2 activator. Nrf2 is a type of protein that helps protect cells from damage. Scientists believe it works by decreasing the number of lymphocytes (white blood cells) in the body, which in turn reduces autoimmune attacks on the nervous system.

A total of 16,672 MyMSTeam members have reported using this drug.

4. Natalizumab

Tysabri, a formulation of natalizumab, secured FDA approval in 2004 — but Biogen pulled it off the market in 2005 after two people taking the drug developed brain infections. In 2006, the drug returned to market. Natalizumab is the first highly effective DMT on this list of medications taken by MyMSTeam members. The drug is indicated for people living with relapsing forms of MS, and it is usually taken via IV infusion every 28 days.

Natalizumab is classified as a monoclonal antibody medication, also known as a biologic. Scientists believe it works by attaching to lymphocytes and keeping them from accessing the central nervous system, thereby preventing them from attacking the brain and nerves.

A total of 11,069 MyMSTeam members have reported using this drug.

5. Fingolimod

Fingolimod is also considered a highly effective DMT. The FDA first approved a formulation of the drug in 2010, called Gilenya. Taken orally in capsule form, the drug is indicated for people with relapsing forms of MS.

Fingolimod is classified as a sphingosine l-phosphate receptor modulator. It decreases immune cell activity that may damage nerves. It is taken orally as a pill once a day.

A total of 8,835 MyMSTeam members have reported that they use or have used fingolimod.

A Closer Look at MyMSTeam Member-Reported Data

Scouring the data reveals some interesting trends about which types of DMTs MyMSTeam members commonly take.

Monthly Needles vs. Daily Pills

The two most commonly prescribed DMTs for MyMSTeam members, glatiramer acetate and interferon beta-1a, are administered via injection. In fact, seven of the top 10 most prescribed medications among MyMSTeam members are administered monthly via injection or infusion. It’s also worth noting that injected DMTs have been on the market longer than oral medications, so it makes sense that more people will have tried them.

Compared with oral medications, injected DMTs are taken less frequently. And one advantage injectables have over infusions is that they can be administered at home, saving a monthly trip to a clinic.

Oral medications are still commonly reported by MyMSTeam members, though. Two of the top five medications on the list come in capsule form — dimethyl fumarate and fingolimod.

Newer Isn’t Necessarily Better

Newer MS treatments haven’t rendered older, tried-and-true options obsolete. The FDA-approval dates for the top 10 DMTs on the list span 1993 (for interferon beta-1b) to 2017 (for ocrelizumab, sold as Ocrevus).

Fewer Members Report Taking Highly Effective DMTs

DMTs that meet certain criteria earn a “highly effective” classification. While they’re clinically proven to slow the progression of MS and to reduce disability, they can also potentially cause rare but serious side effects.

Among the top 10 DMTs on the list, there are four HE DMTs: natalizumab, fingolimod, ocrelizumab, and alemtuzumab. Natalizumab has been on the market since 2004, and fingolimod has been available since 2010, making them the oldest FDA-approved HE DMTs on the list.

The six remaining HE DMTs — four of which were approved in 2019 or later — fall in the bottom 10.

There are two notable HE DMT outliers on the list. The first is rituximab (Rituxan). The FDA hasn’t approved the drug for treating MS, but some doctors prescribe it off-label. Such has been the case for nearly 1,000 MyMSTeam members.

The second outlier is mitoxantrone. This HE DMT was approved in 2000 under the brand name Novantrone, which has since been discontinued. It’s still available as a generic drug, however, and is used for treating various forms of MS. Just over 200 MyMSTeam members have used this drug.

Finding the Best DMT for You

If the DMT you’re taking isn’t high on this list, don’t worry. This list isn’t a ranking of DMT quality or effectiveness — and you should be wary of any source that tries to convince you there’s such a thing as “one best treatment for MS.”

However, if you have concerns that the DMT you’re taking isn’t meeting your treatment goals, speak with your doctor. Even if you’ve been satisfied with your medication for years, researchers agree that most DMTs can lose effectiveness over time. By collaborating with your health care provider and advocating for your priorities and preferences — a process called shared decision-making — you may decide together that it’s time to switch to a different DMT.

Find Your Team

MyMSTeam is the social network and online support group for people living with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 195,000 people come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

How many DMTs have you tried? Are you more likely to choose an older, more established DMT or a newer one? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Highlights of Prescribing Information: Betaseron — U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  2. Highlights of Prescribing Information: Copaxone — U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  3. FDA Approves Two New Generic Forms of Copaxone (Glatiramer Acetate) — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  4. Glatiramer Injection — MedlinePlus
  5. FDA Approves Avonex Pen and Initial Dosing Regimen — Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
  6. 20 Years & Counting — Merck
  7. Interferon Beta-1a Intramuscular Injection — MedlinePlus
  8. Beta Interferons — Multiple Sclerosis Society
  9. FDA Approves Twice a Day Capsules Called Tecfidera (Formerly Called BG-12) for Relapsing MS — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  10. Dimethyl Fumarate — MedlinePlus
  11. Nrf2 — National Cancer Institute
  12. Dimethyl Fumarate-Induced Lymphocyte Count Drop Is Related to Clinical Effectiveness in Relapsing–Remitting Multiple Sclerosis — European Journal of Neurology
  13. How Tysabri Survived — Nature
  14. Natalizumab Injection — MedlinePlus
  15. FDA Expands Approval of Gilenya To Treat Multiple Sclerosis in Pediatric Patients — U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  16. Gilenya — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  17. Fingolimod — MedlinePlus
  18. Off-Label Use of Rituximab and Rituximab Biosimilars — CMS.gov
  19. Mitoxantrone Injection — MedlinePlus
  20. Novantrone — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  21. Therapeutic Approaches Toward Multiple Sclerosis: Where Do We Stand and Where Are We Headed? — Advanced Therapeutics
  22. Disease-Modifying Therapies for Multiple Sclerosis: Pharmacology, Administration, and Adverse Effects — UpToDate
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
    Luc Jasmin, M.D., Ph.D., FRCS (C), FACS is a board-certified neurosurgery specialist. Learn more about him here.
    Ted Samson is a copy editor at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about him here.

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