Research Alert

Newswise — Background: As the COVID-19 pandemic amplifies, efforts to minimise the risk on vulnerable people are essential. People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be a vulnerable group due to the high proportion taking long-term immunosuppressive disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). Studies from Italy and France suggest older age, higher disability and progressive MS are associated with severe COVID-19, yet there remains uncertainty around the influence of DMTs.

Objectives: Given the many approved MS DMTs and the relatively low frequency of COVID-19 in MS patients per country, international data sharing is desirable to examine the impact of DMTs on COVID-19 severity. Here, we present the first results of the COVID-19 in MS global data sharing initiative of the MS International Federation and MS Data Alliance and many other data partners to inform MS clinical management during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Clinician-reported data from 21 countries were aggregated into a dataset of 1540 patients. Characteristics of admission to hospital, admission to intensive care unit (ICU), need for artificial ventilation, and death, were assessed in patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection using log-binomial regression. Adjusted prevalence ratios (aPR) were calculated adjusting for age, sex, MS type, and Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS).

Results: Of 1540 patients, 476 (30.9%) with suspected and 776 (50.4%) with confirmed COVID-19 were included in the analysis. Older age, progressive MS and higher EDSS were associated with higher frequencies of severe outcomes. Anti-CD20 DMTs, ocrelizumab and rituximab, were positively associated with hospital admission (aPRs=1.19 & 1.58), ICU admission (aPRs=3.53 & 4.12), and the need for artificial ventilation (aPRs=3.17 & 7.27) compared to dimethyl fumarate. Higher frequencies of all three outcomes were associated with combined anti-CD20 DMT use compared to all other DMTs (hospitalisation aPR=1.49; ICU aPR=2.55; ventilation aPR=3.05) and compared to natalizumab (hospitalisation aPR=1.99; ICU aPR=2.39; ventilation aPR=2.84). Importantly, associations persisted on restriction to confirmed COVID-19 cases and upon exclusion of each contributing data source in turn. No associations were observed between DMTs and death.

Conclusions: This study used the largest federated international cohort of people with MS and COVID19 currently available. We demonstrate a consistent association of anti-CD20 DMTs with hospitalisation, ICU admission and use of artificial ventilation suggesting their use among MS patients at risk for COVID-19 exposure may be a risk factor for more severe COVID-19 disease. To address study limitations, further research incorporating comorbidities, smoking and body mass index is required. Alternative study designs are needed to address questions on COVID-19 susceptibility among people with MS.

Presenter: Steve Simpson-Yap, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne School Of Population And Global Health