Rituxan, also known by its drug name, Rituximab, is a prescription medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1997. Rituxan is approved for the treatment of some types of lymphoma, leukemia, and arthritis. Although it is not approved for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), Rituxan is sometimes prescribed by doctors for people who have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) and progressive forms of multiple sclerosis. MS is considered an off-label use of Rituxan. Rituxan may slow disease progression and decrease the size of brain lesions in people with MS.
Rituxan is not appropriate for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers. Rituxan may not be recommended for people with active infections. Rituxan should be used with caution in people with a history of hepatitis.
Rituxan is an immunomodulator, or, in other words, a drug that modulates the immune system. It is also considered a biologic. It is a genetically engineered antibody, or protein used by the immune system to identify and neutralize substances. In people with multiple sclerosis (MS), Rituxan is believed to work by inhibiting B-lymphocyte cells, preventing them from attacking the central nervous system.
How do I take it?
Rituxan is administered as two intravenous infusions, 15 days apart. Infusion usually requires two to four hours. Rituxan begins taking effect about six weeks after the second infusion. Effects may last for up to nine months.
Consult your doctor before receiving vaccines while taking Rituxan.
Always follow your doctor’s instructions exactly when taking Rituxan.
A 2013 article reviewed the results of four clinical studies that tested the effects of Rituximab (Rituxan) on RRMS and primary progressive MS (PPMS). One study focused on PPMS, while the other three studies focused on RRMS. The studies included a total of 599 participants.
In the study focusing on PPMS, researchers concluded that participants treated with Rituximab showed marginal delays in time to confirmed disease progression compared with those who took the placebo. Rituximab also produced slightly lower increases in the size of T2 lesions at 96 weeks, as compared with those who took the placebo.
In the three RRMS studies, researchers concluded that those who took Rituximab showed substantial decreases in the annual relapse rate and the number of lesions compared with those who took the placebo.
Rituxan can cause life-threatening side effects. Rituxan has caused severe infusion reactions and serious infections in some people. In rare cases, Rituxan has been linked to a serious brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). Tell your doctor immediately if you experience neurological symptoms such as confusion, weakness on one side of the body, vision changes, difficulty talking or walking, or trouble concentrating.
Common side effects of Rituxan include headache, dizziness, fever and chills, nausea, heartburn, and flushed skin.
You may be more likely to contract infections, including serious infections, due to decreased immune system function while taking Rituxan. Contact your doctor if you develop signs of infection such as fever, cough, trouble breathing, white patches in the mouth, pain or burning during urination, or unusual vaginal discharge.
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.