Ocrevus Q&A, Part 1

Ocrevus Q&A, Part 1

Editor’s Note: First in a two-part series on readers’ comments about Ocrevus (ocrelizumab).

I switched disease-modifying therapies and began treatment with Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) in June. I previously wrote about my reasons for switching, my experiences with the first two doses, and more recently, about any beneficial effects I might be noticing. A number of readers posted responses to these columns, and I was unable to reply at the time. So I decided to publish a round of some of the more significant comments here with my replies. Watch for part two in next week’s column.

Traveling together

I’m not alone with the switch, as a number of people are in about the same place as I in the process of making this change in treatment.

“Had my initial two doses of Ocrevus in July. Now the waiting starts. Looking forward to 6-month dose to really measure a difference. Trying to stay positive until then…”

My neurologist says doctors expect people to see a difference in MS symptoms about four months after starting ocrelizumab. Ocrevus was just approved in March 2017, so its use in the general MS population is just underway on a large scale. A lot of us are staying positive and hoping for the best.

High hopes

Many people hope that this will be the one drug that will help them or someone they love.

“My cousin is going for her first infusion of Ocrevus today. She is newly diagnosed and this will be the first drug she is trying. My question is, does this drug slow down PMS or just help with the symptoms of this disease? Will she ever be able to function once again on her own?”

This person shared a lot in these few sentences. I’m honestly surprised but very happy to hear that a neurologist will put a newly diagnosed person on this drug as first treatment. That tells me the word is getting out that treating MS aggressively from the start is the best way to prevent future disability.

Ocrelizumab is meant to cut the rate of relapses, but I suspect, in my non-medical experience, that when you cut relapses you give the body a chance to heal, and there might be a very strong correlation to improved symptoms.

Will she function again on her own? I certainly hope so. Once a relapse is quieted and once a treatment is started, I hope she returns to being able to do things on her own. Sadly, with MS it seems we are constantly coming up with what normal might be for us, often referred to as our “new normal.” We may have a relapse and do poorly and then improve, but the point we reach in that improvement is rarely the same as where we were when we were hit with the relapse. Hence, we have a new normal set of physical functions and expectations.

Too good to be true?

A number of commenters brought up legitimate concerns that should be addressed more clearly by the manufacturer, Genentech/Roche.

“Too new. There are differences. My number 1 concern is the cancer scare. Until they can prove that it was not caused by drug. I will stick with Rituxan”

“Are you concern [sic] Ocrevus increases the virus shingles by 40%?

A number of people in the trial developed breast cancer, but no one in the control group did. This is very unusual because in the general population there would have been women with breast cancer, too. It’s hard to make sense of why there was this difference. Rituxan (rituximab), which is a chimeric form of ocrelizumab, has been used over 20 years with no increase in cancers noted.

I’m hopeful that insurers will allow people who are on Rituxan to stay on it, even though it is not approved to treat MS. Doctors have been using Rituxan for many years off-label, which means without Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a specific condition.

As for the increased rate of shingles, the official medical website for Ocrevus says:

“In active-controlled (RMS) clinical trials, herpes infections were reported more frequently in OCREVUS-treated patients than in REBIF-treated patients, including herpes zoster (2.1% vs. 1.0%).”

This is a significant difference in the risk of herpes zoster (shingles), but it does not mean that 40% of people on ocrelizumab will get shingles. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine, titled “Herpes Zoster,” notes that 90% of adults in the U.S. are at risk for getting shingles. The lifetime risk for all adults of actually getting shingles is 10-20%. It appears ocrelizumab increases that risk, but just slightly. I’ve had shingles recently and it’s definitely not something I want to ever repeat.

Next week, I’ll answer a few more comments and share my updates.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


  1. Kris says:

    What if a person without MS takes Ocrevus? … ie they think you have MS but you were misdiagnosed, can it harm that person to take it more than a person with MS to take it?

  2. Lisa lloyd says:

    I went to find out if I could start Ocrevis my doctor said it is the same exact drive as retux But remarketed it to make more money Kaiser uses retux because it’s cheaper, The very next day I got a email from my doctor saying I have JC virus in my blood I have never taken And MS drug before even though they tried to talk me into it many times now I’m glad I didn’t I don’t think I am able to take any immune suppressive of drugs

    • Elizabeth says:

      I carry the virus as well. I take plegridy. I have taken copaxone, but was allergic, and beta seron. Those are safe with the virus.

  3. Kathy Lynn says:

    The incident of cancer as well as herpes is ENOUGH to find another MS drug, even ‘tho I have increased plague every time I have an MRI … I’ve tried eight, I’m running out of options .Best of Luck to ALL of Us , Struggling with this Unpredictable Disease. .. .

    • Larry Brewer says:

      Kathy the danger of OCREVUS is worth the danger. I turned it over to the Lord and he is going to Protect mr from the bad side affects. I truly beleive this. That’s why I took my first 2 infusions. Alls great now it’s been a month.

  4. Stacey says:

    I was recently diagnosed WITHERS in June. My doctor had me on Tecfidera and recently took me off of it after learning that it wasn’t helping. He is wanting to put me on Ocrevus (Waiting for insurance approval). I am hesitant as this is all new to me. Never once did I ever have a medical history.

  5. Diana Wilkinson says:

    I had my first doses in August. Waiting for 4 month mark early December. Optimistic – not afraid. Have only been on Copaxone. Glad to not take injections now.

  6. Charlotte says:

    I have been on the drug since 2011. I was of the clinical trials. I have not had another full-blown “flare” but I the disease continues to take a toll on my body. I will say that stress brought on my flares in the past. Through the past years while being on the medicine I have experienced alot of stress due to the death of my husband, father-in-law, and mother. This type of stress has taken it’s toll on me, but not pushed me in to a full-blown flare like the stress has caused me to on other meds. This is just my experience. Thank you for the information about the side effects.

  7. John says:

    My doctor recently switched me from Tysabri to Ocrevus since I am highly positive for JCV antibodies. It has been 4.5 months and I am finally starting to do better although it may be the result of physical therapy. I can honestly say that I did better on Tecfidera, except in the last week before my next infusion. My doctor required a shingles vaccine before I started and annual checkups for skin and breast cancer. I haven’t yet had my follow-up MRI so I don’t know if there are any new brain or spinal lesions, but I suspect none since no new areas of my body are affected. To the commentor above, Ocrevus and Rituximab are not the same drug, although they do operate in the same manner, by suppressing B cells. Rituximab also requires an off-label approval since it is not approved by the FDA for treatment of MS.

    Since I am older and we all have to die of something, I don’t fear PML or cancer, I just want a better quality of life.

  8. Becky Panfil says:

    Hi—Tried leaving a comment before but doesn’t look like it registered. If this is a duplicate–sorry. Had my first two doses in November. After first infusion had lots of energy and my legs felt lighter. I know this must have been some sort of placebo effect since it takes a bit before it works. After the completion of my second half dose, that night it was like a flow of Noxzema going down my arms and legs. The tingling stopped. Since that time, I can almost forget the tingling and it no longer feels like I have weights on my feet when I walk.

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