New applications of drugs could reduce side effects for Myasthenia gravis patients

Thursday 06 December 2018

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune condition that causes muscle weakness by interfering with the body’s ability to communicate messages from the nervous system to the muscles.

The muscles affected can vary from those that control eye and eyelid movement, through to the muscles that control breathing. A myasthenic crisis can occur when the muscles that control breathing are weakened, and patients may need a respirator to assist their breathing.

The onset of MG can be sudden and is often not recognized immediately. There is no cure for MG, but it is possible to manage the symptoms. Current treatment options include immune suppressants, corticosteroids, and a type of blood filtering that removes antibodies.

All current standard treatments for MG come with side effects that can be debilitating.

However, Dr Stefan Blum and Dr Andrew Swayne from Mater Centre for Neurosciences have shown that low doses of a drug originally designed to fight leukaemia and lymphoma may help people experiencing severe side effects of current treatments, or struggling with particularly severe cases of MG and need immediate release.

Their work, recently published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, has shown that low doses of Rituximab (RTX) may provide rapid relief of symptoms, better long term results, and less side effects than current treatments. 

By targeting the maturing B cells (cells that play a key role in generating antibodies) in a patient’s immune system RTX can ‘reset’ a patient’s immune system and interrupt the flow of antibodies that are blocking the brain’s ability to communicate with the muscles.

Their work has shown that low dose RTX treatment of Myasthenia gravis appears to lower disease severity and allow for the reduction of other immunosuppressive treatments in some patients.  

“Novel applications of therapeutics in MG has the potential to markedly improve the quality of life of those people affected by this potentially debilitating condition”, said Dr Swayne.