Health Canada approval of multiple sclerosis drug ‘absolutely a game-changer’

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WATCH ABOVE: Health Canada approved Ocrevus as a drug that can be used for patients suffering from MS. For some patients, it's a game changer – Feb 16, 2018

Joseph Petrilli said he cried for a long time when he heard that Health Canada approved a new drug that could help dramatically improve the symptoms he suffers from living with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS), a debilitating form of the disease.

READ MORE: Filmmaker claims he’s symptom free of multiple sclerosis

“Overwhelmed, overwhelmed,” Petrilli said from his apartment in Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood.

“My Facebook page has blown up today. I would have to say for the first few minutes I just sat there and cried. But this time it was tears of joy. It’s a good day for all MS patients across the country. It’s a huge day.”

On Wednesday, Health Canada approved Ocrevus as a drug that can be used for patients suffering from MS. Its American counterpart — the FDA — approved the drug last March.

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READ MORE: Experts, patients call for more treatment options for progressive MS

Petrilli says he’s communicated with many American patients on online forums who have taken the drug, and they say it has worked wonders for them.

“I have one friend, Betty, she was in a wheelchair. I think within two weeks of her infusion, she was walking 40 steps with no aide at all. I mean it’s a game-changer. It is absolutely a game-changer,” Petrilli said.

READ MORE: Montrealer with MS calling on Health Canada to approve breakthrough drug Ocrevus

Petrilli has been living with PPMS since he was first diagnosed in the summer of 2016.  It’s considered one of the most difficult types of the disease.

“It’s a debilitating disease that I would guess you can say just gently eats away at you over time,” Petrilli said.

“Primary progressive MS I believe is the worst form of MS. Up until today, there is not very much that could have been done for patients.”

Petrilli said doctors have only been able to give him painkillers to help handle the disease.

READ MORE: How a children’s book – and a puppy – helped Ontario woman cope with multiple sclerosis

“Six months ago I could get out of the house by 11 or 12, just to get out. And recently I noticed I am not out of the house before 2 or 2:30. It takes me longer,” Petrilli said.

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“I wake up in the morning and nothing works. To walk to bed and the living room is a chore.”

The drug was developed by Hoffmann-La Roche.

Roughly 100,000 Canadians live with MS. The company says one in 10 MS patients battle PPMS. Unlike other forms of MS where patients have to deal with sudden attacks, PPMS sees patients’ neurological function deteriorate steadily without periods of relapse.

The drug is said to delay progression of the disease.

READ MORE: A healthy, rich diet may reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis: study

It’s now up to individual provinces to decide who qualifies for the drug.

Petrilli says he can’t wait to start taking the drug, and he’s hopeful it will make a big difference to his life.

“It is going to affect thousands and thousands of people across this nation,” he said.  “With the experience with what I am seeing with the group in the States, people’s lives have changed.”