Immune Therapy to Treat MS

These treatments involve the use of medications that modify (change) the immune system's attack on the central nervous system. Immune therapy may reduce the frequency of exacerbations and the accumulation of damage.

These disease-modifying therapies include the following medications:

Interferon beta-1a (Avonex) is given into muscle (intramuscular injection) once per week and has been shown to reduce exacerbations and physical disability. Side effects include flu-like symptoms (e.g., malaise, muscle aches, fever) and inflammation (i.e., pain, redness, infection) at the injection site.

Rebif is an interferon beta-1a that has been shown to delay progression of MS and reduce the frequency of exacerbations. It is administered subcutaneously (under the skin), 3 times per week at a dose of 22 or 44 mcg and dosing frequency maintains a constant concentration of drug in the body.

Rebif is packaged in pre-measured, pre-filled syringes, which may be helpful for patients who have difficulty preparing medication for injection. Side effects include fatigue, inflammation at the injection site, headache, and flu-like symptoms.

Interferon beta-1b (Betaseron) is given by subcutaneous (under the skin) injection, every other day. It has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of exacerbations. Side effects include flu-like symptoms (most common during the first few months of use) and inflammation at the injection site.

Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) is an amino acid that modifies actions of the immune system that may affect the progression of MS. It has been shown to reduce the frequency of exacerbations and the level of disability. It is given by subcutaneous injection every day and usually is well tolerated. Side effects include chest tightness and palpitations (rapid heart beat).

Publication Review By: Jean-Raphael Schneider, M.D.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015