Betaseron for Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis

What To Expect When Taking Betaseron

People with relapsing-remitting MS, or RRMS, usually make their treatment decisions based on their doctor's advice, as well as concerns about convenience, side effects, and cost. One interferon therapy approved by the FDA for treating relapses in MS is Betaseron.

Basics on Betaseron Therapy 

Betaseron (Interferon beta-1b) has been on the market longer than any other disease-modifying therapy. It provides the highest weekly dose of all interferons, at 250mcg/dose, given every other day. It is a subcutaneous (meaning that it is injected into the fat right under the skin) formula and is neutral pH, as opposed to Avonex (intramuscular, meaning injected into the muscle) and Rebif (also subcutaneous, but acidic, so injections can be painful). Most patients develop red spots at injection sites with Betaseron, which, in rare cases, can develop into sores.

Betaseron comes with the usual interferon-related, flu-like symptoms, especially at the beginning of treatment. Since it's given every other day, this makes it difficult for people who work full-time or otherwise need to be "on the go" constantly, as opposed to Avonex (once a week dosing) or Copaxone (non-interferon, so no flu-like side effects). However, Betaseron comes with a titration schedule (meaning patients start at a small dose and increase gradually), which is claimed to greatly reduce these side effects. Betaseron requires that patients get blood drawn regularly to monitor liver function and blood cell counts.

More Detailed Information on Betaseron Therapy

Betaseron is for people with RRMS and progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS). It's also approved for use in people who have experienced one MS event with MRI signs that are consistent with MS.

Efficacy is about the same for all of the CRAB (Copaxone, Rebif, Avonex, Betaseron drugs) -- about one-third reduction in relapses when compared to a placebo over two years. Studies show that there is evidence that the higher-dose interferons (Betaseron and Rebif) may be slightly more effective at preventing relapses and reducing lesions than the lower dose (Avonex). While on Betaseron, blood tests need to be done every three months for the first year to check white blood cell count and liver function. After a year, they can be reduced to once every four months.

Betaseron is given every other day (14 times a month) as a subcutaneous (under the skin) injection, usually done by the patient themselves or a family member. The needle is shorter than for intramuscular therapies (.5 inch versus 1 to 1.25 inches) and is 27 gauge, which is pretty thin. A Betaject 3 automatic injecting device is provided.

Side Effects of Betaseron Therapy

The side effects of Betaseron are similar to those of other interferon-based therapies with the exception of Avonex, which doesn't cause as many injection-site reactions.

  • Flu-like Symptoms: The most important side effect is the flu-like symptoms. These include fever, chills, sweating, muscle aches and fatigue, which last for 24 to 36 hours. This side effect is usually the worst after the first injection and progressively lessens with each injection so that most people do experience it or it's tolerable after six months. It can also be reduced by starting with a low dose and increasing to a full dose gradually, over several weeks. Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen a couple hours before and after can help with this side effect too.
  • Red spots: These usually occur at the site of injections, which may last several weeks. These can break down into sores (injection-site necrosis) in 4 percent of cases. Rotation of sites and placing a warm compress on the site prior to injecting into it can help reduce these red spots. 
  • Liver Damage: Hepatic injury including elevated blood liver enzyme levels and hepatitis have been reported. Regular monitoring is required to prevent such damage from occurring or progressing.
  • Blood Counts: Betaseron can cause a decrease in the numbers of red and white blood cells, as well as a reduction in the number of platelets in the blood.
  • Depression and Seizures: Betaseron should be used with caution in patients with depression and seizures -- these patients need extra monitoring.

Can I Take Betaseron When I'm Pregnant?

Betaseron is pregnancy category C, meaning it caused some harm to fetuses in animal studies, but the effect in humans is unknown. If you are planning a pregnancy, please inform your doctor right away so you can devise a plan together on when to stop it. It's also not recommended to breastfeed while taking Betaseron.

Contact Information for Betaseron

Betaseron is made by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals Inc. The patient support program for Betaseron is called MS Pathways. They can be reached by phone at 1-800-788-1467, where you can discuss questions that you have about Betaseron with a nurse (called a B.E.T.A. Nurse).

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Article Sources
  • Bayer Health Care. Medication Guide: Betaseron.
  • Durelli L, Verdun E, Barbero P, et al. Every-other-day interferon beta-1b versus once-weekly interferon beta-1a for multiple sclerosis: results of a 2-year prospective randomised multicentre study (INCOMIN). Lancet 2002;359:1453-1460.
  • Kappos L, Polman CH, Freedman MS, et al, for the BENEFIT Study Group. Treatment with interferon beta-1b delays conversion to clinically definite and McDonald MS in patients with clinically isolated syndromes. Neurology 2006;67:1242-1249.
  • National MS Society. (2015). The MS Disease-Modifying Medications.