Vol 54, No 6 (2020)
Invited Review Article
Published online: 2020-10-19

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B cell targeting therapies in MS patients during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic — when immunosuppression meets infection?

Marcin P. Mycko1
Pubmed: 33073348
Neurol Neurochir Pol 2020;54(6):490-501.


Introduction. Research into the mechanisms of autoimmune demyelination have highlighted B cells in this process. Therapies targeting this population were a recent addition to the multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs portfolio. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the risk of severe COVID-19 have challenged the safety of B cell depletion in MS patients.

State of the art. Selective depletion of B cells by monoclonal antibodies as monotherapy in MS has been shown to profoundly suppress disease activity among relapsing-remitting MS patients. Furthermore ocrelizumab, a humanised anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody, was the first licensed therapy in primary progressive MS. Based on the concept of the role of B cells in MS, many therapeutic approaches are emerging as novel ways to treat autoimmune demyelination. However, during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, a conservative approach toward limiting immune suppression in MS patients has been proposed.

Clinical implications. Emerging evidence does not support the notion of increased susceptibility among MS patients to the SARS-CoV-2 infection, or any predisposition toward greater severity of COVID-19. This also does not appear to be the case for MS patients undergoing B cell depletion therapies. Thus, any decision to withhold immune suppression in MS patients during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is probably incorrect. MS therapeutic decision-making should focus on the danger of poorly controlled autoimmune demyelination rather than perceived risks from COVID-19.

Future directions. The current pandemic highlights the need to develop more selective and safer methods of immunomodulation in MS. B cells represent several functionally different populations. Further research into the different role of these cells during autoimmune demyelination should yield better, safer strategies to control the encephalitogenic process.

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