Widely prescribed multiple sclerosis treatment may not slow progression of the disease

"It is still possible that some patients gain long-term benefit from beta-interferon drugs. We are currently working toward identifying who those potential treatment responders might be."

Dr Afsaneh Shirani, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Medicine (Neurology), University of British Columbia

Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common form of MS, affecting around 85% of MS patients in Canada. This form of MS is characterized by relapses or “flare-ups” where new symptoms can appear or old ones can resurface or worsen. The relapses are followed by periods of remission during which time the person can fully or partially recover.

Beta-interferon drugs (ß-IFNs) are commonly used to treat MS and, while most studies focus on how well these drugs work in the short-term, little is known about their long-term benefits and side effects in a real world setting.

The BeAMS Study: Long-term Benefits and Adverse Effects of Beta-interferon for multiple sclerosis, is a retrospective study examining the health usage of people with MS in British Columbia. Information about those who were treated with ß-IFNs and those who were not were analysed and compared.

The study, funded jointly by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the USA’s National Multiple Sclerosis Society, involved a multidisciplinary team of researchers, statisticians and clinicians; Dr. Afsaneh Shirani was first author.


Data sources linked

  • Medical Services Plan (BC Ministry of Health)
  • Hospital Separations (BC Ministry of Health)
  • PharmaNet (BC Ministry of Health)
  • BC Multiple Sclerosis (BCMS) data

What did we learn?

Among patients with relapsing-remitting MS, there was no strong association between ß-IFN exposure and long term disease progression.

Implications for population health

While previous research has demonstrated that this class of drugs has helped to reduce relapses, the study findings provide evidence allowing for more realistic expectations as to the anticipated benefits associated with drug treatment.

The research team is preparing for future studies examining ß-IFNs and other classes of disease modifying drugs. The hope is that the research will ultimately lead to an individualized approach to the treatment of MS.

A video of additional comments from Dr Tremlett is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KuUCGiLWFk.
Further information may also be found at: http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/2012/07/17/widely-prescribed-ms-treatment-may-not-slow-progression-of-disease-vancouver-coastal-health-and-ubc-research/

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Population Data BC provides researchers with access to the data and training they need to address research questions on human health, well-being and development. Population Data BC does not have its own researchers or research program.

Page last revised: August 13, 2014