Bayer has released data from a major trial which confirms that early treatment with Betaseron at the first sign of disease can delay progression to multiple sclerosis.

The Leverkusen-headquartered firm presented new data from its BENEFIT study which demonstrate that early initiation of Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) treatment in patients with a first event suggestive of the disease significantly delayed the onset of clinically-definite MS by 37% and McDonald MS by 45% over five years compared to delayed treatment. The findings of the 468-patient study were presented at the World Congress on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis in Montreal.

The BENEFIT study also revealed that patients treated early with Betaseron had a greater reduction in relapse rate over five years compared to patients with delayed treatment, despite the latter receiving at least three years of treatment after the second attack or after two years. Early treatment also significantly reduced the development of newly active brain lesions.

The study also demonstrated that at five years, patients with early treatment had better cognitive function compared to patients with delayed treatment. Changes in cognitive function “have important implications for a patient's quality of life”, said Mark Freedman of the University of Ottawa and BENEFIT investigator.

He added that changes in cognition, along with fatigue, “can be a reason for early departure from the workforce”. Patients treated early with Betaseron fared better in tests of cognitive function compared to those with delayed treatment, “which is good news for people with MS," Dr Freedman added.

Betaseron is a big earner for Bayer and second-quarter sales reached 274 million euros, an increase of 7.0%. Novartis markets Extavia, its branded version of Betaseron, in Europe .