Ocrevus: How a Dying Young Woman’s Wedding Led to Revolutionary Drug To Treat Multiple Sclerosis

Physicians (and most others in health care) learn early that you need to remain somewhat emotionally detached from patients’ struggles if you want to render the best care. Clinical clear-sightedness is crucial.

So maybe it was a case that Stephen Hauser, MD, was still too newly-minted when he treated a young woman 40 years ago who was dying from primary progressive multiple sclerosis. She was one of his first patients, as STAT reports. The majority of MS sufferers do not become severely disabled or paralyzed, but that’s not the case for those with primary progressive MS, which causes a sudden and deadly decline. As STAT reports, “She got married in a wheelchair in her hospital room, tethered to breathing and feeding tubes and dressed in her wedding gown.”

Hauser recalls, “We had nothing to treat her with.” His career path had been decided. He would search for a cure for primary progressive MS, and he eventually became director of the Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

Hauser made headlines worldwide yesterday with the announcement that the FDA approved Genetech’s Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), a drug created thanks to Hauser’s research. Ocrevus is being hailed as a huge breakthrough and an incredible beacon of hope for the approximately 400,000 people in the United States who suffer from the disease. It afflicts about 15% of 2.3 million MS patients worldwide.

Of course, this all comes at a price that insurers will need to deal with. Genetech is an affiliate of Roche Holding AG, and Roche set the annual price for Ocrevus at $65,000 for twice-a-year infusions.

Source: STAT