Stem Cell Therapy Now Available for People with MS in the Netherlands09.03.2023
In Mid-December 2022, it was announced that stem cell therapy (aHSCT) for a specific group of people with MS will be reimbursed from the basic health insurance package in the Netherlands. An important decision for people with MS.
Advocating for Stem Cell Therapy
In 2016, Boaz Spermon started a petition to make this treatment available in the Netherlands. He himself had discovered this treatment, which was effective for him, and was the first Dutch person with MS to undergo it in Sweden. The Dutch MS Society embraced this petition and the lobbying started. The association then worked together with the Dutch Association for Neurology to make this care available in the Netherlands.
Who Can Access The Therapy?
In mid-December 2022, the Dutch Health Care Institute took a decision declaring stem cell transplantation (in full Autologous Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation) to be sufficiently proven effective care for a specific group of people with MS. These are people with Relapsing Remitting MS, whose disease is very active, who deteriorate in a short time and who do not respond to other highly effective DMT’s. This amounts to 10-20 people with MS per year in the Netherlands.
‘This is fantastic news for people with MS and an important first step. We are convinced that stem cell transplantation can offer a solution for patients for whom highly effective MS medication does not work.’ – Jan van Amstel, chairman of the MS Association of the Netherlands
Boaz Spermon is also enthusiastic:”It is a milestone for a specific patient group that has no time to lose; intervention is necessary to prevent further irreversible neurological damage.”
Why Only a Small, Specific Group?
Many people with active RRMS are stable under the available (highly effective) medication. Stem cell therapy is an increasingly safe treatment, but with potentially serious side effects and also a risk of death. There are still insufficient data available to properly establish a difference in effectiveness between stem cell therapy and highly effective medicines that we know of. What we do know from small studies is that the small group of people with highly active RRMS, who do not respond to the most effective medications, can benefit from stem cell therapy.
Where is aHSCT Available in The Netherlands?
A national multidisciplinary team discusses which people with MS are eligible for treatment with stem cell therapy. This team includes neurologists, a haematologist and a neuroradiologist. The treatments are carried out in the Amsterdam UMC and the St. Antonius hospital in Nieuwegein.
Until recently, MS patients from the Netherlands travelled to Moscow, Mexico or other countries for stem cell therapy, countries that also treat people with SPMS and PPMS. The Dutch MS Society strongly advised against this. The reason: the treatment is especially effective in patients with RRMS with highly active disease, a short duration of illness and a low disability score. There is a presumption by the stem cells, as far as we know, no repair of the damage to the filter that is already there. In this sense, the effect is very similar to that of highly effective drugs, but the side effects are more serious. With a diagnosis of SPMS or PPMS, the chance that you will benefit from the treatment is extremely small, and experience shows that these patients continue to deteriorate despite treatment. In addition, the chance that you will get sick. It is precisely the latter that we want to prevent.