B-Cell Therapy for MS May Affect COVID Vaccine Response

Jim Kling

March 04, 2022

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Among individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), disease modifying therapies (DMTs) are associated with a reduced humoral response to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, according to a new retrospective analysis. The link is particularly strong among B-cell depleting drugs.

"A lot of patients ask us if having MS by itself affects the vaccine response. We did not find that, but it's about the disease-modifying therapy that a patient is being treated with," Tirisham Gyang, MD, said in an interview. Gyang presented the study at a poster session during the annual meeting held by the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS).

"These patients (on DMTs) had decreased neutralizing antibody levels to the vaccine after they received it. We also saw a similar marker in drugs that modulate the sphingosine S-1 receptor. These patients also had a lower titer. It wasn't statistically significant, but we think it's positive. It was underpowered because there was a small number of patients in that subgroup," said Gyang, assistant professor of neurology at The Ohio State University.

The results can inform vaccine strategies among people with MS, but the issue remains complex. "I don't know that we could do a blanket statement and say, if you wait this amount of time, everybody will be okay. It's a very individualized approach, and patients need to discuss timing of vaccines with their providers, because we know that waiting is better. It's preferable to wait until towards the end of the dosing cycle. The other factor is making sure that the MS is well treated," said Gyang.

The researchers prospectively followed 83 MS patients at the The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Among the cohort, 71% were female. Fifty-one subjects had serum samples analyzed following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, and they were compared with 38 health care worker controls.

After vaccination, people with MS had about 2.4-fold lower levels of half-maximal neutralization titer (NT50) values compared with health care worker controls. This appeared to be driven primarily by DMTs. There was a more than ninefold reduction in the neutralizing antibody (nAb) response among 13 patients on B-cell depleting agents, compared with no therapy or other therapies (P < .001). Among of individuals on these agents, 61.5% had no detectable nAb.

The researchers also found an association between postvaccine NT50 values and when the vaccine was received compared with the last infusion of B-cell depleting agents. Every additional day since the previous infusion was associated with a 3.7% increase in NT50 value (P = .0032).

The average length of exposure to B-cell depleting agents was 24 months and the median was 25 months. There was no association between length of time on a B-cell depleting agent and NT50 values after vaccination (Spearman correlation 0.35, P = .24).

Subanalyses by sex and vaccine type revealed no differences in nAb levels.

The study did not look at T-cell responses after vaccination or the effect of T-cell depleting agents, and T cells likely still provide some protection, according to Gyang. "Even though the vaccine response may not be as robust as it would have been if they were not on the drug, there is still some degree of protection," she said.

Some Answers, More Questions

The study is important, even though it was presented at the time that the COVID-19 Omicron variant surge was waning. "COVID still remains a major concern. Even though it seems to be on the wane at the moment, that doesn't mean it will be on the wane next week," said Mark Gudesblatt, MD, medical director at South Shore Neurologic Associates (Patchogue, N.Y.), who was asked to comment on the study.

He noted that about 21% of patients in the study who received a vaccination had no detectable antibodies. "That's a problem. You need to pick a medication that works, but not if the medication puts you at risk for other problems, especially in the world of now, where we know there are viral pandemics that occur. And that calls into question: What if you're immunocompromised and you get a flu vaccine or a tetanus vaccine? How much do we know about the vaccination response to most of these? No one really considers [vaccine response] when choosing a medication," said Gudesblatt.

The results broadly confirm what has been seen in other studies, though its focus on the humoral response is a limitation, according to Patricia Coyle, MD, professor of neurology and director of Stony Brook (N.Y.) MS Comprehensive Care Center. "For example, there have been independent studies with the (anti-CD-20 therapies) that indicate that they have a normal cell-mediated vaccine response to the COVID vaccine, even though the antibody response may be impaired in a significant number of individuals, though as you continue to vaccinate the antibody response seems to get better," Coyle said in an interview.

Gyang has served as consultant for Genentech, Horizon Therapeutics, Greenwich Biosciences and EMD Serono. Gudesblatt has no relevant financial disclosures. Coyle has consulted or received speaker fees from Accordant, Alexion, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Celgene, GlaxoSmithKline, Horizon Therapeutics, Janssen, Mylan, Novartis, Sanofi Genzyme, TG Therapeutics, and Viela Bio. Coyle has received research funding from Actelion, Alkermes, Celgene, CorEvitas LLC, Genentech/Roche, MedDay, Novartis, and Sanofi Genzyme.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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