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Immunomodulators and immunosuppressants for multiple sclerosis: a network meta-analysis.

Filippini G, Del Giovane C, Vacchi L, D'Amico R, Di Pietrantonj C, Beecher D, Salanti G.

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 6;6:CD008933.


Different therapeutic strategies are available for treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) including immunosuppressants, immunomodulators, and monoclonal antibodies. Their relative effectiveness in the prevention of relapse or disability progression is unclear due to the limited number of direct comparison trials. A summary of the results, including both direct and indirect comparisons of treatment effects, may help to clarify the above uncertainty.

To estimate the relative efficacy and acceptability of interferon ß-1b (IFNß-1b) (Betaseron), interferon ß-1a (IFNß-1a) (Rebif and Avonex), glatiramer acetate, natalizumab, mitoxantrone, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, intravenous immunoglobulins, and long-term corticosteroids versus placebo or another active agent in participants with MS and to provide a ranking of the treatments according to their effectiveness and risk-benefit balance.

Search methods
We searched the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the Cochrane MS Group Trials Register, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports. The most recent search was run in February 2012.

Selection criteria
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that studied one of the 11 treatments for use in adults with MS and that reported our pre-specified efficacy outcomes were considered for inclusion.

Data collection and analysis
Identifying search results and data extraction were performed independently by two authors. Data synthesis was performed by pairwise meta-analysis and network meta-analysis that was performed within a Bayesian framework. The body of evidence for outcomes within the pairwise meta-analysis was assessed according to GRADE, as very low, low, moderate, or high quality.

Main results
Forty-four trials were included in this review, in which 17,401 participants had been randomised. Twenty-three trials included relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) (9096 participants, 52%), 18 trials included progressive MS (7726, 44%), and three trials included both RRMS and progressive MS (579, 3%). The majority of the included trials were short-term studies, with the median duration being 24 months. The results originated mostly from 33 trials on IFNß, glatiramer acetate, and natalizumab that overall contributed outcome data for 9881 participants (66%).

From the pairwise meta-analysis, there was high quality evidence that natalizumab and IFNß-1a (Rebif) were effective against recurrence of relapses in RRMS during the first 24 months of treatment compared to placebo (odds ratio (OR) 0.32, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.24 to 0.43; OR 0.45, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.71, respectively); they were more effective than IFNß-1a (Avonex) (OR 0.28, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.36; OR 0.19, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.60, respectively). IFNß-1b (Betaseron) and mitoxantrone probably decreased the odds of the participants with RRMS having clinical relapses compared to placebo (OR 0.55, 95% CI 0.31 to 0.99; OR 0.15, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.54, respectively) but the quality of evidence for these treatments was graded as moderate. From the network meta-analysis, the most effective drug appeared to be natalizumab (median OR versus placebo 0.29, 95% credible intervals (CrI) 0.17 to 0.51), followed by IFNß-1a (Rebif) (median OR versus placebo 0.44, 95% CrI 0.24 to 0.70), mitoxantrone (median OR versus placebo 0.43, 95% CrI 0.20 to 0.87), glatiramer acetate (median OR versus placebo 0.48, 95% CrI 0.38 to 0.75), IFNß-1b (Betaseron) (median OR versus placebo 0.48, 95% CrI 0.29 to 0.78). However, our confidence was moderate for direct comparison of mitoxantrone and IFNB-1b vs placebo and very low for direct comparison of glatiramer vs placebo. The relapse outcome for RRMS at three years’ follow-up was not reported by any of the included trials.

Disability progression was based on surrogate markers in the majority of included studies and was unavailable for RRMS beyond two to three years. The pairwise meta-analysis suggested, with moderate quality evidence, that natalizumab and IFNß-1a (Rebif) probably decreased the odds of the participants with RRMS having disability progression at two years' follow-up, with an absolute reduction of 14% and 10%, respectively, compared to placebo. Natalizumab and IFNß-1b (Betaseron) were significantly more effective (OR 0.62, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.78; OR 0.35, 95% CI 0.17 to 0.70, respectively) than IFNß-1a (Avonex) in reducing the number of the participants with RRMS who had progression at two years' follow-up, and confidence in this result was graded as moderate. From the network meta-analyses, mitoxantrone appeared to be the most effective agent in decreasing the odds of the participants with RRMS having progression at two years' follow-up, but our confidence was very low for direct comparison of mitoxantrone vs placebo. Both pairwise and network meta-analysis revealed that none of the individual agents included in this review were effective in preventing disability progression over two or three years in patients with progressive MS.

There was not a dose-effect relationship for any of the included treatments with the exception of mitoxantrone.

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About the Editors

  • Prof Timothy Vartanian

    Timothy Vartanian, Professor at the Brain and Mind Research Institute and the Department of Neurology, Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell...
  • Dr Claire S. Riley

    Claire S. Riley, MD is an assistant attending neurologist and assistant professor of neurology in the Neurological Institute, Columbia University,...
  • Dr Rebecca Farber

    Rebecca Farber, MD is an attending neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at the Neurological Institute, Columbia University, in New...

This online Resource Centre has been made possible by a donation from EMD Serono, Inc., a business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

Note that EMD Serono, Inc., has no editorial control or influence over the content of this Resource Centre. The Resource Centre and all content therein are subject to an independent editorial review.

The Grant for Multiple Sclerosis Innovation
supports promising translational research projects by academic researchers to improve understanding of multiple sclerosis (MS) for the ultimate benefit of patients.  For full information and application details, please click here

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