"Game changing" drug given to first patients in central Ohio

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Medical staff at OhioHealth's Neuroscience Center at Riverside Methodist Hospital have reason to celebrate: they are first in the country to treat patients with a new drug in the battle against multiple sclerosis.

Neuroscientist Dr. Aaron Boster said it’s a transformative moment.

“For the first time we can slow someone’s disease down, it’s really special, a very, very big deal," he said.

The significance of the drug Ocrevus lies in how it can slow what's called primary progressive multiple sclerosis. The manufacturer, Genentech, writes that it is the first and only disease-modifying therapy for primary progressive multiple sclerosis or PPMS.

The progressive form of MS is widely regarded as one of the most disabling. Steve Beanblossom was diagnosed with PPMS in 1986 and said that while Ocrevus is not a cure it is significant.

“At least there’s something not only the fact that it slows it down now but it…it gives them at least something to work from…there is a next step,” he said.

Dr. Jacqueline Nicholas, a neuroscientist on the team with Dr. Boster, said it allows her to offer patients some promise beyond treating their symptoms.

“Now I can say this is what we're going to do I have a treatment for you and we're going to try and halt and slow the progression of your disease," she said.

Multiple Sclerosis is caused by damage to the central nervous system caused by the immune system. Dr. Boster said in people with MS, t-cells misbehave, thinking that part of the brain and spinal cord is foreign and attack.

The new drug, he said, doesn’t allow the t-cells to be stimulated by b-cells.

“It ends up massively reducing how often people with MS have attacks, massively decreasing new spots that form on their brains and slow down the progression of their disease,” Dr. Boster said.

Patients undergo four to five hours of infusion every six months.

There are other Central Ohio MS experts who are excited and cautious about Ocrevus. Dr. Ken Mankowski, a board-certified neurologist in private practice who runs Decillion Healthcare, said he will deliver this message of encouragement to his patients.

“Don’t change your life plan. We have a lot of choices, continue with the life you planned on living,” he said.

Dr. Mankowski said he started talking about the drug months ago with group lectures for patients at his practice. He plans to prescribe it for patients who have failed one established treatment for relapsing MS or for any patient with primary progressive MS.

His practice identified several patients well before the FDA approval.

“I’m telling patients not to abandon their current treatment if they’re doing well. We want to be strategic and have a well-planned course of treatment,” Dr. Mankowski said.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center MS physicians are planning on administrating the drug. They already have extensive experience treating more than 70 patients who participated in clinical trials that were available here.