A new drug for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis is to be covered by the government, helping alleviate the heavy costs incurred by patients — savings worth NT$900,000 annually — as well as reducing painful medical injections that patients have to endure, the Bureau of National Health Insurance (NHI) said on Monday.
Multiple sclerosis is a medical condition where the immune system attacks the central nervous system, preventing the effective transmission of electrical signals between the brain and the spinal cord. The name for the illness refers to the scars which it leaves on the white matter of the brain and the spinal cord.
The bureau said 1,117 patients have been diagnosed as having the condition in Taiwan.
A 26-year-old woman surnamed Lai (賴) first experienced symptoms of the condition nine years ago after she suffered blackouts, felt a sense of unexplained lethargy and lost feeling in her limbs, while also losing control of her bladder.
While she had to endure interferon injections — proteins released to combat pathogenic intrusions in the body — the medical treatment had side-effects including high fevers as well as repeated attacks of the condition.
“It was not until I started taking oral medication that I was finally able to regain the hope of working again,” Lai said.
According to Taiwan Neurological Society chairperson Wu Shey-lin (巫錫霖), the oral medication — at a cost of NT$2,400 per pill — is suited to patients who had undergone interferon therapy, but had not seen any improvement to their condition, though patients would have to apply for treatment first.
The treatment involves the patient taking one pill per day for one consecutive year, Wu said, adding that the most commonly seen side-effect was the slowing of the heart rate.
Clinical tests also show that by comparison with past medication, the new oral medication lowered the rate of attacks by 55 percent, adding that in other research that compared orally ingested medication with interferon, the oral medication showed a 52 percent decrease in rates of attack.
Wu also said that other clinical tests showed that patients with multiple sclerosis undertake injection therapy for, at most, half a year before giving up the therapy or breaking off from it completely, adding that it was primarily due to the fact that the therapy’s effect did not live up to expectations and that the side-effects were intolerable.