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Ampyra Improves Walking Ability in MS Patients


Difficulty walking is one of the most limiting problems faced by patients who have multiple sclerosis (MS). Now a new drug, Ampyra, just approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), can improve walking ability in individuals who have this chronic disease.

Ampyra (dalfampridine) joins several other drugs that have been approved for treatment of MS. Seven disease-modifying drugs currently with FDA approval include interferon beta-1a (Avonex, Rebif), interferon beta-1b (Betaseron, Extavia), glatiramer (Copaxone), mitoxantrone (Novantrone), and natalizumab (Tysabri), all of which, in general, delay the progression of physical disability and reduce the frequency of clinical exacerbations. Ampyra is the first drug approved specifically for improving walking.

Approximately 400,000 people in the United States have MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and about 200 additional cases are diagnosed each week. The disease attacks the central nervous system and can result in symptoms such as numbness in the arms and legs, cognitive impairment, balance problems, fatigue, bladder and bowel dysfunction, and depression, that range from mild to severe. Paralysis and loss of vision can also occur. Disease progression, severity, and specific symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Like many other autoimmune diseases, MS affects women more than men; in this case, two to three times more.

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The recommended dose of Ampyra is 10 milligrams twice daily. When given at higher doses, the drug can cause seizures, according to the FDA. In clinical trials, patients who took Ampyra were able to walk faster than patients who received a placebo. In the first trial, about 35 percent of the patients responded positively to the drug compared with 8 percent who took placebo. In the second trial, 43 percent of treated patients responded compared with 9 percent in the control group. People with MS tend to have an increasingly difficult time walking as the disease progresses.

Ampyra, which will be manufactured by Elan in Dublin, Ireland, and distributed by Acorda Therapeutics of Hawthorne, New York, should not be used by individuals who have moderate to severe kidney disease. Side effects associated with use of the drug can include urinary tract infection, insomnia, dizziness, headache, nausea, weakness, back pain, balance problems, swelling in the throat or nose, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, throat pain, and skin irritation.

Since difficulty with walking is such a limiting factor in the lives of so many people who have MS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society sponsors “Walk MS,” a nationwide event to raise awareness of the disease. According to the Society, people who want to join an existing walking team or form one of their own in their community to raise funds to help people who have MS can visit their website.

The introduction of Ampyra to improve walking ability among people who have MS is one more glimmer of hope for patients who have this life-altering disease. It may be another positive step in the right direction, along with all the other positive steps taken by people who participate in walking events, to improve the lives of individuals with the disease.

Food and Drug Administration, Jan. 22, 2010
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Reuters, Jan. 22, 2010