New Treatments For Multiple Sclerosis

Patients are living longer and better, thanks to the latest medications.

Until relatively recently, there were only a handful of treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS), the autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the insulation of its own nerve cells. Now, an extraordinary expansion in MS therapies has changed the nature of treatment.

“MS is now a lifestyle disease—one that can be modified with medications and physical therapy—rather than a disability sentence,” says Mark Leekoff, MD, a neurologist and MS

Mark Leekoff, MD
Mark Leekoff, MD
specialist who recently joined the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC).

“Some people did extremely well with the older drugs, but the majority of people with the disease progressed,” explains Andrew Sylvester, MD, Medical Director of the MS center and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. Today, medications for MS have fewer side effects and are effective for a much larger group of patients.

Andrew Sylvester, MD
Andrew Sylvester, MD

“Now, we’re often able to delay the onset of progression, which means that fewer people are experiencing the more extreme forms of the disease,” says Dr. Leekoff. He notes that these days, it’s possible for many MS patients to achieve the long-sought goal of preventing advancement of the disease. For people with later-stage MS, the disease can be treated more effectively than in the past.

While many MS treatments work by reining in the immune system—which can make patients more susceptible to other diseases—some new medications mitigate that problem by only working on a single part of the immune system, Dr. Sylvester says.

And while the effectiveness of MS medications has improved, their number has also increased significantly. “We now have over 23 different medications, with more on the way,” Dr. Leekoff says. “That makes it far more likely that patients will find a treatment that works for them.”

No Symptom Too Small

“It’s not just the disease of MS that needs to be treated,” says Dr. Leekoff. “It’s the whole patient. There’s no symptom that’s too big or too little to treat or to address.” Dr. Leekoff became a neurologist because his father has MS. “I’ve always thought that I would treat my patients how my father would want to be treated,” he says.

That approach aligns perfectly with the center’s philosophy, which Dr. Sylvester defines as “focusing on patients’ abilities, not their disabilities, and on how we can allow them to achieve their goals.”

Dr. Leekoff has extraordinary empathy with his patients because he, too, has been a patient. Having a hearing loss, he received a cochlear implant at the age of 3 that allows him to hear and speak normally. Just as he doesn’t let hearing loss define him, he also doesn’t define patients by their disease. Through his own disability, he notes, “I’ve shown others, including my patients, that anything is possible.”

To learn more about the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, call 973.322.7484.