Dimethyl fumarate for treating relapsing multiple sclerosis

Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2015 Jan;14(1):161-70. doi: 10.1517/14740338.2015.977251. Epub 2014 Nov 8.


Introduction: Outcomes of two large double-blind placebo-controlled studies of oral dimethyl fumarate (DMF) in multiple sclerosis (MS) provided the basis for its marketing approval as Tecfidera® by the US FDA in early 2013 and the European Medicines Agency in February 2014. The safety of DMF is complemented by experience in the use of an oral mixture of fumaric acid esters, including DMF for psoriasis (Fumaderm®; DMF and monoethyl fumarate [DMF-MEF]) licensed in Germany in 1994.

Areas covered: This article reviews the pivotal trials leading to the approval of DMF for MS and the pharmacological literature related to the extensive use of oral fumaric acid esters for psoriasis over the last quarter century. Anecdotal reports of serious adverse reactions to DMF-MEF are also reviewed in this report.

Expert opinion: DMF is generally safe and well tolerated. Flushing and gastrointestinal side effects are relatively common for the approved DMF dose but are ordinarily mild and self-limited. No increase in malignancies has been reported despite theoretical concerns. Although progressive multifocal encephalopathy has been reported anecdotally in 5 of > 196,000 patient-years of experience with fumaric acid esters, none of the 65,000 DMF MS patients treated in the first year has been affected. Appendix to the abstract: Subsequent to the acceptance of this article for publication, the manufacturer has notified physicians of the death of one patient from PML complicating use of DMF in the DEFINE study extension (ENDORSE). This does not alter the expert opinion rendered regarding the safety of DMF. We await the outcomes and recommendations from the ongoing investigation into this case.

Keywords: dimethyl fumarate; fumarate; lymphopenia; monoethyl fumarate; multiple sclerosis; neuroprotection; nuclear factor (erythroid-derived-2)-like 2; progressive multifocal encephalopathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dimethyl Fumarate
  • Esters / adverse effects
  • Fumarates / adverse effects*
  • Fumarates / pharmacology
  • Fumarates / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / drug therapy*


  • Esters
  • Fumarates
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Dimethyl Fumarate