Is big pharma company profiteering at the expense of MS patients? Surely it cannot be true!


Close similarities between Ocrevus (ocreluzimab), currently nearing approval as a treatment for MS, and Rituxan (rituximab) are causing criticism of drug manufacturer Genentech. It faces allegations of profiteering at the expense of MS patients.

The US patent for Rituximab, which has never been approved as an MS treatment, expired last year and Genentech needed to stop investment in it and, instead, put money into a ‘new’ medication. This turns out to be ocrelizumab, a drug that is humanized while rituximab was chimeric.

One of the voices raised in criticism belongs to Scott Dunaway, who has MS. He is furious and blames big pharma. In an email to me he said: “Do you realize, that rituximab and ocrelizumab are identical? Other than one is based on human protein and one is based on a mouse protein.

“Rituximab has the same effect on someone with primary progressive multiple sclerosis as ocrelizumab.

“One thing that’s not talked about very much, is rituximab may have fewer side effects than ocrelizumab. Now wouldn’t that be sad?  Unfortunately for any concerned, I fall in the category of one of the last bastions of chronically progressive diseases left, where there may be as many as 50 to a 100 thousand in the United States and Canada that could live for decades, albeit a hideous existence, worth billions once a FDA drug is approved.

“Unfortunately, this still earned me no urgent treatment. We all have to wait in line with the rest of the progressives until ocrelizumab is approved. Why is this? Why aren’t all primary progressive multiple sclerosis patients prescribed rituximab until ocrelizumab is FDA approved?

“I’m sure there is a very logical answer for this very illogical conundrum – “$”. I could never do their job. Guilt would haunt me constantly. Did it ever occur to you, or what I mean to say is, does it ever occur to Big Pharma that we may know several people taking rituximab for several different diseases, even off script. And yet I cannot have it because I have primary progressive multiple sclerosis?”

In fact, the drugs are not the same but they are very close cousins that appear to work in the same way.

What is strange is that, if the two share the same effectiveness, why on earth was rituximab not put forward as a multiple sclerosis treatment years before the patent ran out? I’d really hate for those suggesting that money was really the cause, to be right.

They couldn’t be……could they?

A response from Genentech, on this issue, would be welcomed.

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ian profile is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.


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