Background: Interferon beta-1a and glatiramer acetate are commonly prescribed for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), but no published randomised trials have directly compared these two drugs. Our aim in the REGARD (REbif vs Glatiramer Acetate in Relapsing MS Disease) study was to compare interferon beta-1a with glatiramer acetate in patients with RRMS.
Methods: In this multicentre, randomised, comparative, parallel-group, open-label study, patients with RRMS diagnosed with the McDonald criteria who had had at least one relapse within the previous 12 months were randomised to receive 44 mug subcutaneous interferon beta-1a three times per week or 20 mg subcutaneous glatiramer acetate once per day for 96 weeks to assess the time to first relapse. A subpopulation of 460 patients (230 from each group) also had serial MRI scans to assess T2-weighted and gadolinium-enhancing lesion number and volume. Treatments were assigned by a computer-generated randomisation list that was stratified by centre. Analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00078338.
Findings: Between February and December, 2004, 764 patients were randomly assigned: 386 to interferon beta-1a and 378 to glatiramer acetate. After 96 weeks, there was no significant difference between groups in time to first relapse (hazard ratio 0.94, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.21; p=0.64). Relapse rates were lower than expected: 258 patients (126 in the interferon beta-1a group and 132 in the glatiramer acetate group) had one or more relapses (the expected number was 460). For secondary outcomes, there were no significant differences for the number and change in volume of T2 active lesions or for the change in the volume of gadolinium-enhancing lesions, although patients treated with interferon beta-1a had significantly fewer gadolinium-enhancing lesions (0.24 vs 0.41 lesions per patient per scan, 95% CI -0.4 to 0.1; p=0.0002). Safety and tolerability profiles were consistent with the known profiles for both compounds. The overall number and severity of adverse events were similar between the treatments and were not an important cause for discontinuation of the trial during the 96 weeks.
Interpretation: There was no significant difference between interferon beta-1a and glatiramer acetate in the primary outcome. The ability to predict clinical superiority on the basis of results from previous studies might be limited by a trial population with low disease activity, which is an important consideration for ongoing and future trials in patients with RRMS.