Exclusive Content

A Look Back on a Decade of Innovation in MS Treatments

By Matt Cavallo

Dec. 31, 2019 marked the end of a decade. During the course of a decade, many things can change. This is especially true to those of us living with multiple sclerosis. I was diagnosed in 2005 and at that time, there were only four injectable treatments available for MS. At that time, there weren’t any oral options and, at least for me, the thought of sticking a needle in my own leg was terrifying. 

There wasn’t much hope on the horizon, but that was about to change in a big way. From 2010 to 2019, there have been great strides made in MS treatments. Here are some highlights.

In September 2010, Gilenya became the first FDA-approved MS disease-modifying treatment to come in an oral pill form. This was significant progress. At the time, I was working at the Neuroscience Clinic at Banner Good Samaritan in Phoenix, where we saw people living with MS every day. I was also giving speeches at MS events and support groups across the country. Through the clinic and through the community, the buzz around the pill was all anyone could talk about. The introduction of the pill brought renewed hope to the MS community and kick-started a decade of innovation in MS treatments.

While on the topic of MS oral medications, in 2012 Aubagio was approved by the FDA as the second disease-modifying oral treatment followed by Tecfidera in 2013. Now all of a sudden, people living with MS not only had an oral therapy, but they also had a choice. With that choice came national exposure. In October 2015, Tecifdera launched the first commercial for a treatment that was used for relapsing-remitting MS. This was a historic event and a complete flop. The commercial itself received a lot of backlash because the MS community felt that the person depicted in the commercial did not truly represent the face of MS and painted an unrealistic view of living with the disease. 

Biogen decided to sunset the commercial early in 2016, but that did not stop other treatments from advertising on television. In 2017, Gilenya launched an ad campaign showing real people living with MS fighting back against the disease. Just two years later in 2019, Ocrevus, became the first infusion MS treatment to launch a national TV advertisement campaign. The MS community has embraced these campaigns because they focus on real patients in realistic situations.

Gilenya and Ocrevus are breakthrough treatments in more ways than just advertising campaigns. In 2017 Ocrevus became the first treatment approved for people living with progressive MS. In 2018, Gilyena was approved to treat children and adolescents age 10 or older, becoming the first pediatric treatment for MS. 

Innovation continues today. In 2019, Mavenclad and Mayzent became the fifth and sixth disease-modifying pills to gain FDA approval. So why has this decade provided such innovation as compared to previous decades? Perhaps it is because we are growing in numbers.

It is estimated that more than one million people in the United States alone are living with MS. This is more than twice the previously reported number. Notable celebrities have also been diagnosed with MS this decade including Jack Osbourne (2012), Jamie-Lynn Sigler (2016) and Selma Blair (2018). Each of these celebrities has lent their voice to the advocacy cause pulling back the curtain on their life with MS and bringing their story to the mainstream. 

All of this exposure has helped to raise awareness and funding for the research that brought us to where we are today. So what does that mean for the future? I do not know what the future has in store for MS. However, if research continues to innovate at the speed of last decade, maybe the 20’s will bring what we have all been hoping for – a cure.