University of Cambridge - Delivering new treatments for multiple sclerosis

Pioneering research into multiple sclerosis (MS) carried out at the University of Cambridge led to the development of a new drug that is now being used to treat more than 24,000 people worldwide.

An estimated 2.5 million people across the world have multiple sclerosis, it affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and is the commonest neurological cause of disability in young adults.

Developed by researchers working in three Cambridge laboratories, the drug alemtuzumab works by preventing cells produced by the immune system in individuals with relapsing MS from attacking the covering of nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This lowers the risk individuals will develop progressive MS and in turn allows more people to stay in work, with a higher quality of life, requiring lower drug and healthcare costs.

The foundational research which supported the development of alemtuzumab was funded by grants from the National Institute for Health Research and Medical Research Council, charity funders and investment commercial partners Sanofi and Bayer Pharmaceuticals,

In 2012, the drug was acquired by global pharmaceutical company Sanofi. In September 2013, it was licensed in the UK and since then has been licensed in more than 70 other countries and the EU, generating more than €1.859 billion in net sales.

Patients typically take the drug twice, in two courses spaced a year apart from each other. Because the drug is administered infrequently and has a prolonged effect, analysis has shown that it has a high cost effectiveness compared to drugs of a similar class.

In the United States, studies estimate alemtuzumab treatment will save between $450,000 and $600,000 in healthcare costs for each person treated over 20 years. In 2014, the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) judged it is the most cost-effective treatment for multiple sclerosis compared with other available immunosuppressant drugs.

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