New drug gives hope for those with progressive multiple sclerosis

As many as 400,000 Americans are believed to suffer from multiple sclerosis -- a debilitating disease of the central nervous system. A new drug may provide relief from the most devastating form of MS. 

Six years ago, at age 45, Jerrie Gullick suddenly developed leg and back pain, numbness, and severe fatigue. She was barely able to walk, and working at a demanding job became impossible.

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 Jerrie Gullick, who has multiple sclerosis. 

CBS News

“I had to quit about 7-8 months after I got my diagnosis,” she said. “The fatigue was overwhelming.” 

The diagnosis was multiple sclerosis. 

Many MS patients can manage their disease through the use of several helpful medications, but Gullick is one of the 10 to 15 percent who have progressive MS, which has no approved treatment and continuously gets worse.

Three years ago, she joined a trial of a new intravenous drug called Ocrelizumab. 

It targets an immune system cell which, in MS, is felt to mistakenly attack the nervous system. 

In the more serious progressive form that Gullick has, the drug slowed down the rate of disability by about 25 percent.

Neurologist Dr. Fred Lublin of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City worked on the trial.

“It’s a very big deal. You have to start with success and this is the start. And so this is for us the start of treating progressive MS, the treating progressive MS era,” he said. 

Gullick said this drug is giving her new hope.

“This is what I’m gonna have for the next 20 years and that’s okay, whereas before I was thinking in 5 years I’m going to be bedridden,” said Gullick.

Gullick can see the silhouette of at least an acceptable future. 

This drug works by suppressing the immune system, and researchers are still looking at it closely for any serious side effects. The FDA is expected to make a decision about possible approval by the end of March.   

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook