Making Sense of MS Research

Summaries of independent,
high-quality research about multiple sclerosis treatments

Interferons for Secondary Progressive MS

Detailed answer

Relapses

Taking interferons for 3 years slightly decreases the chance of experiencing one or more relapses

In words

  • Without interferons, 53 per 100 people with SPMS would experience one or more relapses over three years and 47 would not.
  • With interferons, 48 per 100 people with SPMS would experience one or more relapses over three years and 52 would not
  • Therefore with interferons, 5 fewer per 100 people would experience one or more relapses over three years compared to without interferons.

In pictures

Without interferons, 53 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability
Graph showing 53 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability.
1 100 Graph showing 48 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability.
With interferons, 48 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability

In technical terms, the result was just statistically significant, the confidence intervals touched 1 and the boundaries were narrow. This means the effect of interferons was unlikely to be due to chance alone.

Do these results look different from what you’ve read elsewhere? See the FAQ page for an explanation. You can also discuss the results with your local MS Australia office.

Disability

Taking interferons for three years makes little or no difference on the chance of disability getting worse

In words

  • Without interferons, 41 per 100 people with SPMS would experience worsening disability over three years and 59 would not
  • With interferons, 40 per 100 people with SPMS would experience worsening disability over three years and 60 would not
  • Therefore with interferons, 1 fewer person per 100 would experience worsening disability over 3 years compared to without interferon

In pictures

Without interferons, 41 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability
Graph showing 41 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability.
1 100 Graph showing 40 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability.
With interferons, 40 per 100 people with SPMS are estimated to have worsening disability

In technical terms, the result was not statistically significant, the confidence intervals crossed 1 and the boundaries were wide. This means there is statistical uncertainty about the effect and it could have occurred by chance alone.

Do these results look different from what you’ve read elsewhere? See the FAQ page for an explanation. You can also discuss the results with your local MS Australia office.

Side effects

Interferons are generally well tolerated.  Most interferon side effects are mild and can often be relieved with symptomatic treatments, without the need to stop taking them.

●●●
Very common (10-100 per 100)
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Common (1-9 per 100)
Uncommon (less than 1 per 100)
?
There is no information about the side effect
Symptoms
Avonex® Betaferon® Rebif®
Flu-like symptoms
(fever, chills, cough, sore throat, flu-like symptoms)
●●● ●●● ●●●
Headache ●●● ●●● ●●●
Pain and redness at the injection site ●● ●●● ●●●
Muscle weakness ●● ●●● ●●
Itching, rash ●● ●●
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea ●● ●●
Depressed mood, insomnia ●● ●●
Joint pain ●● ? ●●
Skin break down at the injection site ? ●●
Weight loss ●● ? ?
Hair loss
High blood pressure ? ?
Blood test values
Avonex® Betaferon® Rebif®
Low white blood cell counts ●● ●●●
Low red blood cell counts ●● ●●●
Low blood platelet counts ●●●
Abnormal liver enzyme levels ? ●●●
Abnormal thyroid hormones ? ?

Sources: This side effect data has been collated by the IN-DEEP project team using publically available data from the European Medicines Agency, Micromedex and the studies included in Cochrane reviews on Interferons.

What we don’t know from the results of this review

Based on the studies included in the Cochrane review, we are uncertain about the effect of interferons on cognitive function (i.e. brain function). The way each original studies measured cognitive function was different, meaning the authors could not put the results together to see the overall effect.

What about the quality of the included studies?

Overall the quality of the studies was high. The studies were randomised controlled trials, which are considered the most rigorous study design that minimises the risk of misleading results.

The really detailed answer

For more information, or to read about the individual studies included in this review, you can access the Cochrane review on which this treatment summary is based: