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Research paper
Disease-modifying drugs for multiple sclerosis and infection risk: a cohort study


Objective Little is known about disease-modifying treatments (DMTs) for multiple sclerosis (MS) and infection risk in clinical practice. We examined the association between DMTs and infection-related medical encounters.

Methods Using population-based administrative data from British Columbia, Canada, we identified MS cases and followed them from their first demyelinating event (1996–2013) until emigration, death or study end (December 2013). Associations between DMT exposure (by DMT generation or class) and infection-related physician or hospital claims were assessed using recurrent time-to-events models, adjusted for age, sex, socioeconomic status, index year and comorbidity count. Results were reported as adjusted HRs (aHRs).

Results Of 6793 MS cases, followed for 8.5 years (mean), 1716 (25.3%) were DMT exposed. Relative to no DMT, exposure to any first-generation DMT (beta-interferon or glatiramer acetate) was not associated with infection-related physician claims (aHR: 0.96; 95% CI 0.89 to 1.02), nor was exposure to these drug classes when assessed separately. Exposure to any second-generation DMT (oral DMT or natalizumab) was associated with an increased hazard of an infection-related physician claim (aHR: 1.47; 95% CI 1.16 to 1.85); when assessed individually, the association was significant for natalizumab (aHR: 1.59; 95% CI 1.19 to 2.11) but not the oral DMTs (aHR: 1.17; 95% CI 0.88 to 1.56). While no DMTs were associated with infection-related hospital claims, these hospitalisations were also uncommon.

Conclusion Exposure to first-generation DMTs was not associated with an altered infection risk. However, exposure to the second-generation DMTs was, with natalizumab associated with a 59% increased risk of an infection-related physician claim. Continued pharmacovigilance is warranted, including an investigation of the DMT-associated infection burden on patient outcomes.

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