Evolution of Disease Modifying Therapy Benefits and Risks: An Argument for De-escalation as a Treatment Paradigm for Patients With Multiple Sclerosis

Front Neurol. 2022 Jan 25:12:799138. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2021.799138. eCollection 2021.


Background: Strategies for sequencing disease modifying therapies (DMTs) in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients include escalation, high efficacy early, induction, and de-escalation.

Objective: To provide a perspective on de-escalation, which aims to match the ratio of DMT benefit/risk in aging patients.

Methods: We reanalyzed data from a retrospective, real-world cohort of MS patients to model disease activity for oral (dimethyl fumarate and fingolimod) and higher efficacy infusible (natalizumab and rituximab) DMTs by age. For patients with relapsing MS, we conducted a controlled, stratified analysis examining odds of disease activity for oral vs. infusible DMTs in patients <45 or ≥45 years. We reviewed the literature to identify DMT risks and predictors of safe discontinuation.

Results: Younger patients had lower probability of disease activity on infusible vs. oral DMTs. There was no statistical difference after age 54.2 years. When dichotomized, patients <45 years on oral DMTs had greater odds of disease activity compared to patients on infusible DMTs, while among those ≥45 years, there was no difference. Literature review noted that adverse events increase with aging, notably infections in patients with higher disability and longer DMT duration. Additionally, we identified factors predictive of disease reactivation including age, clinical stability, and MRI activity.

Conclusion: In a real-world cohort of relapsing MS patients, high efficacy DMTs had less benefit with aging but were associated with increased risks. This cohort helps overcome some limitations of trials where older patients were excluded. To better balance benefits/risks, we propose a DMT de-escalation approach for aging MS patients.

Keywords: de-escalation; discontinuation; disease modifying therapy; escalation; high efficacy; infection; multiple sclerosis; relapse.