Rebif for Treating Multiple Sclerosis

What you need to know about this interferon medication

In This Article

Rebif (interferon beta 1-a) is an injectable prescription drug for treating multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease in which your immune system damages the protective covering of your nerves (myelin sheath). Your body naturally makes a type of anti-inflammatory called interferon. Rebif mimics those interferons and helps lessen the inflammation caused by the immune system's attack on your nerves that occurs with MS.

Indications

Rebif is one of several disease-modifying therapies for treating relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). Like other interferon therapies, Rebif can lower your number of relapses by about a third and delay some of the physical disability associated with the disease.

Effectiveness

Numerous studies show that Rebif is an effective treatment for many people with RRMS. The drug tends to fare well in comparison studies, too.

In a review of studies comparing interferon-beta to glatiramer acetate, the drug in Copaxone, researchers concluded that outcomes showed only small differences in most measures. Interferon-beta did appear to limit the increase of lesions on the brain better than glatiramer acetate, though.

A comparison study of interferon beta-1a and dimethyl fumarate (the drug in Tecfidera) suggested comparable relapse outcomes, but better safety outcomes for interferon beta-1a.

When put up against alemtuzumab (the drug in Lemtrada) in two 2017 studies, though, researchers say interferon beta-1a didn't come out on top. One study said alemtuzumab led to fewer relapses, slower disease progression, and fewer new lesions. The other suggested that alemtuzumab improved physical, mental, and emotional quality of life measures significantly more than interferon beta-1a.

Scientists may have discovered why, for some people, Rebif becomes less effective over time. Research published in 2018 suggests that some people may develop antibodies to interferon beta-1a, which impairs the drug's function.

The likelihood of antibodies was higher in participants who'd taken the drug for more than two years. In addition, these people tended to be sicker than those who tested negative for the antibodies.

Administration

Rebif is an injectable medication delivered subcutaneously (under the skin) three times per week. It's available in a prefilled syringe as well as two different types of autoinjectors.

Dosing options are 22 micrograms (mcg) and 44 mcg. A titration pack offers an 8.8-mcg dose for those who are advised to start at a lower dosage and gradually work up to 22 or 44 mcg. (This can help minimize side effects.)

Pros and Cons

The are several pros and cons to weigh when considering Rebif for your MS.

Pros

  • Requires the use of tiny needles (less needle pain)

  • Subcutaneous injections (less painful than deeper types)

  • Convenient dosing options (no mixing)

  • Doesn't need to be kept cold

Cons

  • Low pH (may hurt more when injected)

  • More frequent dosing (3x weekly vs. 1x weekly)

When you're on Rebif, you'll need to have regular bloodwork to check for low blood cell counts and liver problems, and you'll also need to be monitored closely for depression. However, most MS treatments require regular monitoring for possible complications.

Side Effects

The potential side effects of Rebif are similar to those of other interferon-based therapies.

Common side effects include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, sweating, muscle aches, and fatigue lasting for eight hours or longer
  • Changes in liver blood tests, which can include liver failure; symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, dark urine, pale stools, yellowing of the skin or whites of your eye, confusion, and bleeding easily
  • Stomach pain

Other serious side effects are possible. Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Depression, suicidal thoughts, or other mood problems
  • Seizures
  • Blood problems due to changes in bone marrow, which can lead to infections and problems with bleeding and bruising
  • Injection-site problems, including redness, pain, swelling, fluid drainage, necrosis (dying skin that turns blue or black); rotating injection sites can help prevent this problem
  • Serious allergic and skin reactions (rare), with symptoms such as itching; swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue, or throat; trouble breathing; anxiety; feeling faint; rashes or hives; sores in the mouth; skin that blisters and peels

Possible side effects should be part of the risks/benefits weighing that you and your doctor go through when considering treatments.

Considerations and Contraindications

It may not be safe for someone with a seizure disorder to take Rebif.

Women who are pregnant should not use this drug. Animal studies have found that it can harm fetuses. Let your doctor know if you get pregnant while taking this drug. If you want to get pregnant, your doctor may have you stop taking Rebif for one to three months before you begin trying to conceive. You also should not breastfeed while taking Rebif.

Your doctor may want to take certain health issues into consideration before prescribing this medication, such as any history of mental illness, liver problems, and alcohol use.

Cost

As with most MS medications, Rebif is expensive—about $5,150 per month. Your insurance company may cover it, so be sure to check. Additionally, the manufacturer has programs that may be able to help you afford the drug. To discuss options, you can call the company at 1-877-447-3243 or visit their website.

A Word From Verywell

This is a lot of information to take in, and good treatment decisions are crucial. That's why it's important for you to do your research, discuss options with your healthcare team, and let your doctor know how things are going once you start treatment. It's all part of finding the treatments that work best for you.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources