Glatiramer acetate, sold under the brand name Copaxone, is a prescription medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating adults who have had one multiple sclerosis (MS) episode and whose magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is consistent with symptoms of MS. Glatiramer acetate is not a cure for MS, but it can decrease the number of flare-ups. It is not proven to help delay or prevent disability. Glatiramer acetate must be used with caution and closely monitored in people with a history of heart problems or chest pain. Glatiramer acetate is not suitable for anyone who is allergic to mannitol, which is one of the drug’s inactive ingredients.
Glatiramer acetate is an immunomodulatory drug; in other words, it modulates the immune system. Glatiramer acetate consists of several of the amino acids (protein units) that make up the myelin coating on nerves. In people with multiple sclerosis, it is this coating that the immune system attacks. It is thought that Glatiramer acetate may act as a decoy for the immune system to attack instead.
How do I take it?
Glatiramer acetate is administered by subcutaneous (under the skin) injection into arms, hips, thighs or abdomen. It is important to vary the injection site each time. Keep track of which sites you use, and don’t reuse a site for at least one week. Always wash hands and swab the injection site with alcohol before injecting Glatiramer acetate. Medical professionals will oversee your first injection and monitor you afterwards for any sign of an allergic reaction.
Glatiramer acetate comes in prefilled syringes. It can either come in 20mg doses, which must be injected every day, or 40mg doses that can be taken three times a week, with at least 48 hours in between injections. Your doctor will choose which dosage you should receive based on your individual condition and how you respond to treatment. Glatiramer acetate must be stored in the refrigerator and allowed to warm to room temperature for 20 minutes before injection. It must not be frozen.
Always follow your doctor’s instructions exactly when taking Glatiramer acetate.
The FDA approved Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) in 2013 based on five clinical trials. The first study involved 50 people and lasted for two years. Of those who took 20 mg of Glatiramer acetate daily, 56 percent did not have any relapses during the two-year period, while 28 percent of those taking the placebo did not have relapses. The second two-year study involved 251 people. Of those who took Glatiramer acetate, 34 percent had no relapses, while 26 percent of those on the placebo had no relapses. The fifth study proved that the thrice-weekly 40 mg dose would obtain the same results as the daily 20 mg dose. The FDA approved this dosage in January 2014.
Some people experience side effects including flushing, anxiety, trouble breathing and heart palpitations in the first few minutes after injecting Glatiramer acetate. These side effects vanish after about 15 minutes in almost everyone who takes Glatiramer acetate, but a few people have needed emergency medical care when the reaction has not stopped. In some cases, these reactions only begin to occur after a few months of taking Glatiramer acetate, but it can happen after any Glatiramer acetate injection.
The most common symptom people experience on Glatiramer acetate is localized discomfort at injection sites. This can include redness, tenderness, a hard swelling, itching or warmth. Some people may experience a runny nose or weight gain.
Tell your doctor if you experience depression, infection, dizziness, fainting, severe pain or hives at injection sites, vision problems or swelling in your legs or feet while taking Glatiramer acetate.
Seek medical help immediately if you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction such as trouble breathing, severe dizziness, a rash, or itching or swelling of the face, tongue and throat.