MS Research Roundup: December 12, 2014
The MS Blockbuster That Got Away; Playing Hardball With High-Priced Drugs; The Story of Gluten Intolerance
MS Research Roundup collects items of interest to multiple sclerosis researchers from around the Web. Send us your tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buffaloed by the Blockbuster That Got Away
The story of interferon β-1a (Avonex, Biogen Idec) is “that of a talented medical researcher from a blue-collar city who stubbornly pursued an unorthodox treatment for a devastating illness that remains little understood to this day,” wrote journalist Stephen Watson in the first of a two-part article published this week by The Buffalo News. The late Lawrence Jacobs, M.D., first tried interferon β-1a as a treatment for relapsing-remitting MS in the late 1970s with support from community foundations in his home city of Buffalo, New York. After receiving a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to test intramuscular injections of the drug, Jacobs approached Massachusetts-based Biogen Idec to supply the high levels of interferon βneeded to achieve an effective dose. The gamble led to the approval of the $3 billion blockbuster drug that now makes up roughly 38% of Biogen Idec’s annual sales to date. But Buffalo missed out on the infusion to the local innovation economy, because Biogen Idec and Jacobs never pursued opening a plant in the city. Read the full story here. (Biogen Idec, The Buffalo News)
High-Priced Drugs Harder to Get
U.S. companies that oversee prescription benefits for health plans and employers are waging war against rising drug prices, according to a story in Bloomberg News. One company, St. Louis-based Express Scripts, is excluding 66 brand-name drugs from its main formulary next year, up from 48 in 2014 when it started exclusions, reports Robert Langreth. In response to a MSDF request for the names of excluded MS drugs, a spokesperson provided links to company literature about better outcomes with disease-modifying therapy, driving price competition among drugmakers, and smart formulary management. Another company, a unit at CVS Health Corp. that competes with Express Scripts, excluded Rebif (interferon β-1a, Merck Serono) from its main formulary in 2015, along with 94 other drugs. The drug is priced at more than $5,000 for a 4-week supply, according to the Bloomberg News article, which also singled out drugs for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and hepatitis C. (Bloomberg News, Express Scripts)
What’s the Story With Gluten and MS?
Gluten-free is the new low-carb. The sticky protein is found in wheat and is a ubiquitous additive. It helps give bread its structure; lends stability to pasta, confections, and other wheat-based products; and hides in all sorts of foods from soy sauce to meat alternatives. Gluten has been blamed for the rise in a number of diseases, including MS. But is nonceliac gluten intolerance a real condition? Journalist Michael Specter recently published a fascinating article in the New Yorker about the history of gluten in mass-produced foods and how this protein may or may not be responsible for the vast sea of vague ailments people say it is. (Spoiler alert: It probably isn’t.) While we didn’t cover it in our recent story on diet, gluten’s dietary contributions to multiple sclerosis remain poorly understood. A 2012 review in Nature Reviews Neurology, written by Gloria von Geldern, M.D., of the University of Washington Medical Center and Ellen Mowry, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, summarized the findings on gluten and MS. While there is some evidence that patients with MS have a higher incidence of antibodies to gluten in their blood, there is no evidence that gluten intake increases the rate of relapses. The review stated that most MS clinicians do not make specific recommendations about gluten. (Nature Reviews Neurology, New Yorker)