MS was Big News recently when the FDA approved a new drug called Tecfidera (or BG-12, as it was known before approval) for the treatment of MS. If you were to believe the media hype, you’d think this was cause for a tremendous celebration among the MS community. The drug was featured in national TV news reports and on the front page of newspapers.
For some with MS, especially those who’ve had bad experiences with other meds, it is good news. I don’t want to minimize that. Reading the reports, however, would lead one to believe that this drug is a major breakthrough. Well, it is and it isn’t.
It isn’t a breakthrough at all for MS patients. It’s nothing more than another weapon in the arsenal to slow the MS juggernaut down. We already have two other oral drugs, so that’s nothing new. According to clinical trials, it’s not much more effective, if at all, than the other orals, or the injectable and intravenous drugs that have been in wide use for as long as twenty years.
So what’s all the fuss about? Search for “Tecfidera” in Google news and you’ll see. Nearly all the “news” relates to what this drug will do for the stock price of its maker, Biogen. The news is primarily business, not medical, and certainly not about people with MS. There’s no other reason to make a fuss. It’s just another drug, albeit a welcome addition.
Ironically, the last time an MS drug made this much news was when the drug Tysabri started killing people. That drug is now also sold by Biogen, though it was developed by a different company.
I’m not paranoid about this. This situation was actually pointed out to me by someone else, someone who doesn’t have the disease. I’m also not ungrateful for the expense, hard work, and creativity that goes into bringing a drug to market.
More cynical people will talk about how the entire pharmaceutical industry is corrupt and has no interest in treating people, only in their own bottom lines. I’m not making that case here, although it’s pretty hard to argue with, given the amoral behavior of American business in general.
The more important point is that Tecfidera is not a medical breakthrough. MS is still incurable and treatment is a crap shoot at best. Some meds work, some don’t. Some stop working after a while, some kill people. And some people who never take a drug at all do very well, thank you. No one can predict which of these scenarios will apply to a given patient.
This should be about helping sick people get better – or more accurately for people with MS, preventing them from getting worse – not lining the pockets of investors.