An arthritis patient on the medication Rituxan™ faces a one in 25,000 chance of getting the deadly brain disease progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), according to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis.
David B. Clifford, M.D. and his co-workers published their report in an online issue of Archives of Neurology. The group found four cases of PML in approximately 129,000 patients taking Rituxan™ (the generic is rituximab) for rheumatoid arthritis.
Among the four, two patients died within a year of diagnosis of PML. Of the two remaining patients, whose Rituxan™ treatment was stopped, one had no further symptoms of PML and the other, although cognitively impaired, has regained her ability to walk.
The researchers urged physicians treating patients with Rituxan™ to think twice about prescribing the drug because of the lethality of PML. In those patients who are treated with the medication, doctors should know that "aggressive evaluation of new and progressing neurological deficits is very important to allow early diagnosis. No further rituximab should be used if a suspicious neurological symptom or sign appears until the diagnosis is successfully excluded," the authors urged.
PML is a disease of the brain, caused by the J.C. virus. The virus exists in 80 to 90 percent of adults and remains latent until the immune system is weakened. The opportunistic infection then travels through the blood stream to the brain, where it inexorably progresses to destroy the myelin. Myelin is a substance that covers the nerves, protecting them and enabling them to transmit signals faster to the rest of the body.
With the destruction of the nerves, patients with PML experience unrelenting diminishment of their capacities. The first sign of the disease is usually clumsiness. Progressing slowly at first, the disease continues to destroy brain tissue and with it the concomitant function of the body parts and organs that are affected.
The disease attacks patients with HIV and AIDS and others with immune system deficiencies, caused either by disease or by drugs used to treat disease. Victims include patients on chemotherapy for cancer and patients receiving immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplants, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Crohn’s disease, severe plaque psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PML and have been treated with Rituxan™, you might be eligible for compensation. Contact our PML attorneys to schedule a free case review.