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Interferon ß-1b Reduces Disease Activity in Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis Patients

MONTVILLE, N.J., April 4 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- At the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, Berlex Laboratories, Inc., the U.S. affiliate of Schering AG, Germany (NYSE:SHR) , announced results from a study that showed its multiple sclerosis (MS) treatment Betaseron(R) (interferon beta-1b) for SC Injection significantly reduced relapse rate and MRI disease activity in early-stage and relapsing-remitting MS patients with low levels of disability.

"Early treatment with Betaseron, even in patients with low levels of disease activity, can potentially slow the path toward disability," said lead investigator Barry Arnason, MD, Professor of Neurology, University of Chicago MS Center. "These findings demonstrate that frequent and high doses of Betaseron, given early in the course of the disease, can reduce repeat attacks and brain lesions, helping to impact disease progression."

The study was derived from a post-hoc subgroup analysis of the Betaseron pivotal two-year study. Data were evaluated in two subgroups: patients with low levels of disability (Expanded Disability Status Scale [EDSS] score of less than or equal to 2) and patients with early-stage disease (duration of less than or equal 2 years).

In the first group, 41 relapsing-remitting MS patients with low levels of disability were treated with Betaseron 250 mcg every other day, while 49 were given a lower dose of Betaseron (50 mcg), and 43 received a placebo. Results showed that Betaseron 250 mcg significantly reduced the mean relapse rate compared to placebo (1.0 versus 1.5, p=0.013), and significantly decreased MRI disease activity as measured by the mean percentage change in lesion area at two years (a reduction of 4.0%, compared to an increase of 31.2% with placebo, p=0.0001).

In the group with early relapsing-remitting MS, 38 patients were given Betaseron 250 mcg every other day, 48 received Betaseron 50 mcg, and 48 received a placebo. The results showed that treatment with Betaseron 250 mcg significantly reduced MRI disease activity, as assessed by mean change in lesion area, compared to placebo (a reduction of 8.3% versus an increase of 31.8%, p=0.0001).

About MS
MS is a disease of the central nervous system affecting the brain and spinal cord. It is estimated to affect more than 350,000 people in the United States, and is the major acquired neurologic disease in young adults. People who develop MS may not immediately recognize their condition, because the symptoms of MS are nonspecific and may be similar to those of other diseases.

Common signs and symptoms of MS include fatigue, psychological and cognitive changes, weakness or paralysis of limbs, numbness, vision problems, speech difficulties, problems with walking or motor skills, bladder problems, and sexual dysfunction.

Relapsing-remitting forms of MS are characterized by periods of attacks, interspersed with stable periods. Most symptomatic patients are classified at onset with the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. About 50 percent of patients with relapsing-remitting disease advance into the secondary progressive form within 10 years. At this stage, after periods of intermittent attacks and remissions, the disease begins a course of steady progression.

About Betaseron
Betaseron was the first therapy approved in the United States to treat relapsing-remitting MS. In January 2002, the FDA approved a new room-temperature formulation of Betaseron. Betaseron is the first and only interferon therapy available as a room-temperature formulation (25 degrees C/77 degrees F) for MS, providing a convenient option for MS patients in the United States.

The recommended dose of Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) is 250 mcg (8 MIUs) every other day, which delivers an average total of 875 mcg (28 MIUs) per week.

Serious side effects include depression, suicide, suicidal ideation, and injection site necrosis (skin breakdown, drainage of fluid and tissue destruction), which have been reported in 5 percent of patients in a controlled MS trial. The necrotic lesions are typically 3 cm or less in diameter, but larger areas have been reported, and they may occur at single or multiple sites.

Common side effects of Betaseron therapy include flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath, menstrual disorders, and injection site reactions (redness, pain, swelling, and blue-black discoloration have been reported). The exact relationship between MRI findings and the clinical status of people with MS is unknown.

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