Objective: To evaluate Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) effects after clinically isolated syndromes (CIS).
Methods: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, participants were randomly assigned to receive BCG or placebo and monitored monthly with brain MRI (6 scans). Both groups then entered a preplanned phase with IM interferon-β-1a for 12 months. From month 18 onward, the patients took the disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that their neurologist considered indicated in an open-label extension phase lasting up to 60 months.
Results: Of 82 randomized subjects, 73 completed the study (33 vaccinated and 40 placebo). During the initial 6 months, the number of cumulative lesions was significantly lower in vaccinated people. The relative risks were 0.541 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.308-0.956; p = 0.03) for gadolinium-enhancing lesions (the primary endpoint), 0.364 (95% CI 0.207-0.639; p = 0.001) for new and enlarging T2-hyperintense lesions, and 0.149 (95% CI 0.046-0.416; p = 0.001) for new T1-hypointense lesions. The number of total T1-hypointense lesions was lower in the BCG group at months 6, 12, and 18: mean changes from baseline were -0.09 ± 0.72 vs 0.75 ± 1.81 (p = 0.01), 0.0 ± 0.83 vs 0.88 ± 2.21 (p = 0.08), and -0.21 ± 1.03 vs 1.00 ± 2.49 (p = 0.02). After 60 months, the cumulative probability of clinically definite multiple sclerosis was lower in the BCG + DMT arm (hazard ratio = 0.52, 95% CI 0.27-0.99; p < 0.05), and more vaccinated people remained DMT-free (odds ratio = 0.20, 95% CI 0.04-0.93; p = 0.04).
Conclusions: Early BCG may benefit CIS and affect its long-term course.
Classification of evidence: BCG, as compared to placebo, was associated with significantly reduced development of gadolinium-enhancing lesions in people with CIS for a 6-month period before starting immunomodulating therapy (Class I evidence).