For example, BG-12, which is expected to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the next few months, has shown promise in treating not only multiple sclerosis, but also psoriasis, another autoimmune disease, Pardo said.
However, the price of these drugs remains high for patients.
For example, Perkins, 54, takes eight pills a day and self injects another medicine every other day.
Her insurance pays $56,500 per year for her medicine. She pays about $3,400. Her injections cost $3,569. Ampyra, a drug used to improve multiple sclerosis patients' ability to walk, costs $1,200. One of Perkins' anti-fatigue medicines costs $2,719 for a 60-day supply.
On average, someone with multiple sclerosis will pay about $50,000 per year for their treatment.
Perkins retired in 2010 after 15 years working in health care. Thanks to her past employers, she's insured and has a pension.
But not all MS patients have access to health care or the financial means to afford treatment, said Jennifer Philp, the programs and services manager at National Multiple Sclerosis Society Oklahoma.
“Even with good health insurance, it's a very expensive disease,” Philp said.
It's not uncommon for an MS patient to have frequent visits with their neurologists and other health care providers, she said. There's significant follow-up associated with treatment, and often times, a patient is also being treated for symptom management.
“If you don't have access to good health insurance, then you're talking thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars for a given individual,” Philp said. “Even if you do have health insurance, it can be quite costly, and people's out-of-pocket expenses can be greatly exaggerated just because of a chronic disease they have no control over.”
In the 1990s, Perkins was a single mother living paycheck to paycheck. She wanted more for herself and her children, and she had always dreamed of being a nurse.
It seemed like a good time to finally live that dream. But while in the middle of nursing school, Perkins was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
That was about 20 years ago. Today Perkins uses a motorized wheelchair because walking has become more difficult. She drives using a conversion van, which cost her about $24,000 to convert.
Perkins regularly attends a Pilates class in Norman that helps her retain strength in her legs. She works in her garden and spends time with her toddler grandson. She's found retirement to be pleasant, regardless of the fact that the fatigue of MS can sometimes slow her down.
“God has made me realize I have so much to be thankful for,” Perkins said. “My disease is not a death sentence. It is disabling, but it's not a death sentence.”
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