Multiple sclerosis (MS) shares an immune-mediated origin with psoriasis. Long-term safety and efficacy data generated in Europe from usage of fumaric acid formulations in the latter disease constituted grounds to investigate their effects in MS patients. Dimethyl fumarate (DMF) was found to be the active principle in those formulations and in vitro studies have demonstrated that DMF has immune-modulatory properties exerted through abilities to divert cytokine production toward a Th2 profile, both on lymphocytes and microglial cells. More importantly, DMF was discovered to impact the anti-oxidative stress cell machinery promoting the transcription of genes downstream to the activation of the nuclear factor (erythroid derived 2)-like2 (NRF2). DMF exposure increases the cytosol concentrations of NRF2, which besides immune regulatory effects, has the potential for cytoprotection on glial cells, oligodendrocytes and neurons. Extensive and rigorous clinical trials have assessed the efficacy and safety of DMF at the dose of 240 mg twice and three times a day in relapsing-remitting MS patients during one phase IIb and two phase III trials. Robust, positive results were obtained across a number of clinical and paraclinical parameters. In one study (DEFINE), the relative reductions of the adjusted annualized relapse rate of the low and high dose regimens in comparison with placebo were 53% and 48%, respectively (p < 0.001 for both comparisons). In the other trial (CONFIRM), DMF decreased the annualized relapse rate in comparison with placebo by 44% in the lower and by 51% in higher dosage group (also p < 0.001). The number and size of lesions as detected by magnetic resonance imaging were also significantly decreased in comparison with the patients receiving DMF at every dosage. Multiple post hoc and subgroup analyses corroborated the clinical data, rendering DMF an appealing medication whose potential for impacting the degenerative aspects of MS remains to be explored.
Keywords: DMF mechanism of action; DMF metabolism; MS therapy; clinical trial results; dimethyl fumarate; safety and efficacy.