Vancouver, BC—A commonly used drug for multiple sclerosis (MS) not only helps manage symptoms but also extends life in many patients, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Brain, determined that MS patients taking beta- interferon drugs had a 32% lower mortality risk than those who did not take the drug. The trend was especially strong in those who had used the drug for more than 3 years, note researchers from the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

Touted as the first and largest study to look at mortality associated with beta-interferon treatment of MS, the research involved nearly 6,000 patients in Canada and France.

“This is a significant study,” said lead author Elaine Kingwell, PhD, a research associate and epidemiologist in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and on the faculty of medicine at UBC, and at Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. “Although these drugs have been prescribed since the mid-1990s, it takes time before scientists can look at the effect of these treatments on a long-term outcome like survival. We found that patients who were treated with these drugs during routine clinical practice survived longer overall than patients who had not taken beta interferon.”

Beta interferons were the first drugs to be approved for the treatment of relapsing-onset MS, which is the most common form of the disease, and they have been used to treat MS longer than any other disease-modifying therapy.

Globally, the beta interferons remain the most commonly prescribed disease-modifying drugs for MS, according to background information in the study, which also points out that it was unknown if they altered survival.

The researchers focused on the association between beta interferon and mortality in the real-world setting. To do that, they conducted a multicenter, population-based, observational study of patients with relapsing-onset MS who were initially registered at a clinic in British Columbia, Canada (1980-2004) or Rennes, France (1976-2013).

Study participants were followed from whichever occurred latest—their first MS clinic visit, 18th birthday, or January 1, 1996—until death, emigration, or December 31, 2013. Only patients naïve to disease-modifying therapy and immunosuppressant treatment of MS at the start of their follow-up were included in the analysis. Those 5,989 patients—75% female with a mean age of 42 at study entry—were compared with controls.

Over the study period, 742 patients died, with 649 matched to between one and 20 controls. Results indicate that the odds of beta-interferon exposure were 32% lower among cases versus controls (0.68; 0.53-0.89).

The researchers determined that increased survival was associated with more than 3 years of beta-interferon exposure (0.44; 0.30-0.66), but not between 6 months and 3 years exposure (1.00; 0.73-1.38).

“Beta interferon treatment was associated with a lower mortality risk among people with relapsing-onset multiple sclerosis. Findings were consistent between two geographically distinct regions in North America and Europe,” the study authors conclude.

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