SOURCE: The Neurology Center of Southern California

August 08, 2011 08:00 ET

First-Ever Oral Medication Introduced for MS Patients

ENCINITAS, CA--(Marketwire - Aug 8, 2011) - This wasn't supposed to happen, especially not like this. It was her 40th birthday and she had just received a romantic marriage proposal the week before. Corrine Satterwhite should have been on cloud nine, but instead, she was experiencing a frightening onset of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and had no idea. Her feet were tingling, her legs were numb, and she ended up in the hospital followed by therapy where she had to learn to walk all over again.

"It was 5 years ago when I got the definitive diagnosis of MS, and I was put on injectable medication three times a week. It was such an ordeal. It just burned," Satterwhite explained. "When I first learned there was an oral medication, I was the first in line for it. It's just wonderful."

Satterwhite was talking about Gilenya, the first oral medication for MS, now approved in more than 35 countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Pacific South Coast Chapter, there are more than 45,000 people in San Diego, Orange and Imperial Counties who are affected by MS, the most common neurological disease affecting young- to middle-aged adults. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. More than twice as many women as men have MS. There is no known cause, cure or prevention. Symptoms cannot be predicted and can vary greatly, ranging from numbness in the limbs and extreme fatigue to loss of balance and muscle coordination or paralysis.

"Medications to treat MS have been available for the past 18 years, but they've all been injectables," said Benjamin Frishberg, M.D., neurologist at the Neurology Center of Southern California who specializes in treating MS patients. "Gilenya is the first pill that has been made available to MS patients filling a great need. There are also four other oral medications in development as well as several more IV and injectable medications, some that appear to be highly effective in preliminary studies and seem to nearly eradicate the disease. In fact, MS is one of the most actively researched neurological diseases with thousands of people working in labs around the world to help find a cure."

In MS, the immune system attacks and damages the myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers in the central nervous system (including the brain and spinal cord). Gilenya stops many of the white blood cells from leaving the lymph nodes. It is believed that taking Gilenya results in fewer immune system related white blood cells entering the central nervous system to attack and damage the myelin sheath.

Like Corrine, Kristi Wolfe's first encounter with MS was sudden and surprising. Now 38 years old, she's thrilled to have made the switch to an oral medication.

"When Gilenya first came out I was a little reluctant because it wasn't tried and true and nobody had any experience with it. With the injectables, I used to be able to time it right down to the minute. Within three hours of giving myself an injection, I would come down with flu-like symptoms that lasted all night long. It was so bad," Wolfe explained. "Now since taking Gilenya, I have no side effects and can hardly even tell I have MS. I have my life back!"

NOTE to assignment desk and editors: Dr. Frishberg, Corrine Satterwhite and Kristi Wolfe are available for interview. Please call Marisa Vallbona at 619-708-7990 or Brian Williams at 619-954-4276 to make arrangements.

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