Kim Johnson ReportingA new therapy for sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis, M.S., was voluntarily pulled off the market this week. Biogen Idec Inc. and Elan Corporation suspended doctors from prescribing Tysabri after one patient died and another became critically ill while taking the drug in combination with another drug. The news hit hard for patients and doctors alike.
John Foley: “Probably an understagement would be relatively devastated. It’s an enormously effective drug for people with M.S.”
Twice as effective, he says, as any other MS drug on the market. As chief of neurology at LDS Hospital, Dr. Foley treats up to a thousand people who suffer with MS, and has prescribed Tysabri for at least 80 of those patients.
Since news broke of the drug being pulled, his office staff has been flooded with calls from upset patients. Until Monday, M.S. patients on Tysabri would get an injection every four weeks intravenously. Each vial cost $2500. It's the most expensive agent for MS to date, but Dr. Foley says it has also shown the most promise. Patients have told him they're not as fatigued, they're stronger, and have better balance.
John Foley M.D., Neurology, LDS Hospital: “We’ve had several people in wheelchairs who’ve at least gotten up out of their wheelchairs and even taken a few steps, which they haven’t done in a long time.”
Jay Gurmankin, who has struggled with MS for decades, says he felt his strength returning after just a few days of taking Tysabri.
Jay Gurmankin, MS Patient: “A couple of weeks after I took it I actually walked up a couple flights of stairs. And personally, I haven’t done that or wanted to do that for a couple of years.”
He says he hopes Tysabri won't be gone for long.
Jay Gurmankin: “I hope they’ll put it back on the market and say, ‘Look, here are the risks, including this new risk. If you want to take it, we’ll let you take it. Just release us from the liability,’ because I would take the risk.”
Dr. Foley says that's what he's hearing from all his patients -- they'll take the risk for a better quality of life.
Tysabri was made availble to MS patients just last November. There are no reports of any patients becoming ill who've just taken it alone.