A new oral treatment for those living with multiple sclerosis has been approved for use in Canada.
Tecfidera is an oral medication recently approved by Health Canada.
It becomes just the second oral drug available in the country to treat multiple sclerosis – other treatments are done by injections.
Julie Kelndorfer has spent nine years living with MS and says it’s been a rollercoaster ride.
“It’s been an interesting journey for all of us, my whole family,” Kelndorfer.
Multiple sclerosis attacks the protective covering or myelin, of the brain and spinal cord, interrupting the flow of nerve pulses which affects vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility.
Kelndorfer has a form of MS called relapsing-remitting.
She recently experienced an episode she’d never been through before.
“It was actually the MS attacking my brain stem so my balance was off, it was like I was having seizures, I was in a convulsion,” she said. “It was scary.”
After that episode, Kelndorfer stopped taking the daily injection medication she had been on for years.
She has since spent months researching Tecfidera to see if it will work for her.
“When something is new and exciting, at the same time you’re hesitant to be the first one out of the gate,” she said.
Kelndorfer is holding out hope that Tecfidera will mean fewer muscle spasms.
“I think it’s another arsenal in the fight against MS and I think that’s exciting,” she said.
High prevalence of MS in Alberta
Neurologist Dr. Fabrizio Giuliani says the prevalence of multiple sclerosis cases in Canada is high and those numbers are highest in Alberta.
“Alberta seems to have the highest prevalence. Some people talk of MS as the ‘Disease of Alberta’ because of the numbers,” Giuliani said.
The only other oral MS drug available in Canada comes with serious side effects that make it an option many doctors tend to avoid recommending.
That fact makes Tecfidera an attractive alternative treatment for patients.
“Every drug has side effects. We don’t have to forget that. It’s the severity of the side effects sometimes that can be different based on the mechanism of the drug,” he said.
“For the Tecfidera it looks like the safety profile is quite good.”
According to the MS Society of Canada, clinical trials on hundreds of patients have shown Tecfidera reduces relapses by 53 per cent and slows the disease progression by 38 per cent.
Kelndorfer knows all therapies come with risks. She has read that Tecfidera is known to cause gastrointestinal problems but she’s willing to give the pill a try if it will – for the most part – improve her overall quality of life.
“The side effects seem fairly reasonable,” Kelndorfer said. “For the time that I’m living, I want a quality of life that let’s me be the mom, the wife, the employee.”
Kelndorfer says she was told by her doctor that she could be on the new treatment as early as next month.
These therapies cost anywhere between $20,000 to $40,000 a year.
Tecfidera still needs to undergo review by the Canadian Drug Expert Committee as well as a local expert committee before determining if the medication will be funded by the province.
“Both expert committees review new medications to ensure they are safe, efficient and cost-effective, ensuring Albertans are kept safe and that public dollars are spent with the best health outcomes in mind,” Alberta Health spokesperson John Muir said in a statement to CTV News.
May is MS Awareness Month.
According to the MS Society of Canada, an estimated 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians are living with the disease, with 1,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
With files from Carmen Leibel