AIIMS urges PM to make cheaper drug mandatory to treat multiple sclerosis

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New Delhi, May 31 (IANS) All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to make it mandatory for doctors in India to prescribe the much cheaper and effective Azathioprine to treat multiple sclerosis, than other USFDA approved drugs in the market.

Studies have shown Azathioprine to be effective in treating multiple sclerosis – in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves resulting in damage to nerves and disrupts the communication between the brain and the body.

AIIMS has conducted meta-analysis on the efficacy of the medicine and concluded that Azathioprine is better than other USFDA approved medicines in the market for multiple sclerosis.

Other medicines such as Interferons – prescribed by most of the doctors, costs Rs 3 lakh per year while Azathioprine costs only Rs 10,000 anually.

“In India affordability is a prime concern for patients. Azathioprine is effective or possibly more effective than Interferons. This can be considered as the first-line treatment for multiple sclerosis. This hopefully will serve as a big relief for those who cannot afford more expensive treatment options,” Kameshwar Prasad, Head of Neurology, AIIMS, told IANS.

He said that despite writing several letters to the ICMR and Prime Minister Modi personally on the matter, he has received no reply.

M.V. Padama Srivastava, another professor of Neurology at AIIMS, said that currently India has 1 lakh-1.5 lakh multiple sclerosis patients, of whom only half were taking medication due to the high price of Interferons.

Multiple sclerosis causes many different symptoms, including vision loss, pain, fatigue and impaired coordination.

The symptoms, severity and duration can vary from person to person. Some people may be symptom free for most of their lives, while others can have severe, chronic symptoms that never go away. Physiotherapy and medication can help with symptoms, and slow disease progression.

The doctors also said that Azathioprine was not being prescribed by majority of Indian neurologists despite it having fewer side affects than Interferons.

Azathioprine, sold under the brand name Imuran among others, is a generic medicine and now available in the market.

Doctors say that one of the reasons why neurologists do not prescribe it is due to the expiry of its patent, and making it easily available in the market because of which pharma companies are not able to earn well.

On other lines of treatment, Prasad said that stem cell treatment is another possible and better treatment procedure to cure multiple sclerosis, However, the technique is still a subject of ongoing research.

“This treatment is called Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) or bone marrow transplant. It has been done on more than 700 patients around the world and results are encouraging, but no comparative study of Phase III has been reported,” Prasad told IANS.

AIIMS, Delhi had done the first published case of HSCT in multiple sclerosis from India in 2012.

–IANS

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