(NaturalNews) How does a drug manage to become so popular with the medical community, yet turn out to be ineffective at achieving the treatment objectives it was prescribed to achieve? How do such drugs get past clinical trials if they don't do what they're supposed to do?
Those are good questions to keep in mind as you consider recent reports regarding interferon beta, the most widely prescribed medicine for treating multiple sclerosis (MS). A new study has found this most common and popular of MS drugs has little or no effect on halting a patient's progression towards disability, The New York Times and other media reported.
The drug does seem to help reduce the development of brain lesions while limiting the frequency of relapses. But other than that, it appears to be pretty worthless; up to now, few other studies have examined the long-term, overall effect of interferon beta that would demonstrate how effective it is at preventing the beginning of the non-reversible disability.
MS, you may or may not know, is a chronic, often debilitating autoimmune disease that very often attacks the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord, as well as the optic nerves.
"Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another," says a description of the disease on the Web site of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The primary reason for using the drug is now - what?
The current study examining the long-term preventative effects of interferon beta, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, was conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia. A team led by Afsaneh Shirani, M.D., utilized data collected from 868 MS patients who were being treated with interferon beta. They were compared with 1,788 patients who never took the medication.
Using what was described as a well-validated scale, the researchers said they found those who took the drug no less likely to suffer long-term disability than those who took none.
"A key feature of MS is clinical progression of the disease over time manifested by the accumulation of disability. Interferon beta drugs are the most widely prescribed disease-modifying drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of relapsing-onset MS, the most common MS disease course," said background information in the JAMA article.
So, essentially, the drug is worthless for the most important of uses for MS patients.
Wait - let's not throw it out just yet
The Times said interferon drugs are most often used to treat relapsing-remitting MS, which is the most common form of the disease. And while the course of progression the disease takes varies, it is usually a relapsing illness that produces many symptoms including muscle spasms, trouble walking, bladder and bowel problems, hearing and vision issues, speech difficulty and trouble with attention span and reasoning abilities.
"After adjustment for potential baseline confounders (sex, age, disease duration, and EDSS score), exposure to interferon beta was not associated with a statistically significant difference in the hazard of reaching an EDSS score of six when either the contemporary control cohort or the historical control cohort were considered," the research team said.
"In conclusion, we did not find evidence that administration of interferon beta was associated with a reduction in disability progression in patients with relapsing-remitting MS," the team wrote.
"The ultimate goal of treatment for MS is to prevent or delay long-term disability. Our findings bring into question the routine use of interferon beta drugs to achieve this goal in MS. It is; however, possible that a subgroup of patients benefit from interferon beta treatment and that this association would not be discernible in our comprehensive 'real-world' study," said the team.
Despite this dour assessment of the drug's primary use, the study's primary author, Helen Tremlett, an associate professor of neurology at the University of British Columbia, said interferon beta isn't completely useless.
"These drugs were licensed because they reduce relapse and have a better outcome with lesions," she told the Times. "That has not changed."