Avonex: Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis

Scans of a brain showing atrophy.
Avonex is the drug most prescribed for people suffering from relapsing MS.

The late Lawrence Jacobs, MD, a UB professor of neurology, was determined to improve the lives of his patients. His resolve led to groundbreaking research on multiple sclerosis (MS)—most notably the development of Avonex (interferon beta-1a), the drug most prescribed for people suffering from relapsing MS.

As early as 1981, Jacobs’ research showed that early treatment of multiple sclerosis with interferon beta-1a significantly reduced the rate of progression and impact of the disease, which often includes brain and nerve damage. Jacobs funded his initial work privately, eventually attracting multimillion dollar grants from the National Institutes of Health.

After the introduction of Avonex in 1994, Jacobs traveled throughout the world, lecturing and educating physicians on the use of the drug, coordinating MS clinical research and developing new research initiatives. During his tenure as chair of the UB Department of Neurology, he hosted scientists from 15 countries, training them in his MS clinic.

In 2000, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a large-scale study led by Jacobs that described the benefits of beta-1a interferon in treating multiple sclerosis. The impact of this study prompted the Harvard Health Letter to name Jacobs’ research as one of the 10 leading health advances for 2000.