Dozens of drugs may increase risk of rare brain infection

A new study found dozens of FDA approved drugs can increase the risk of developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a rare and often fatal brain infection, by an average of eight times.

The study, published Dec. 14 in Frontiers in Neurology, identified four genetic mutations that can increase the risk of PML by 8.7 times on average, but one mutation increased risk by 33-fold. Nearly 11 percent of patients in the study who had PML tested positive for at least one of the four gene variants.

The FDA put its most serious warning, a Black Box Warning, for PLM on eight approved medications. More than 30 drugs carry other PML warnings and 75 drugs are connected to the infection, according to a Dec. 12 USA Today report. PML cases are on the rise with more than 500 cases listed on the FDA's adverse event reporting system in 2021.

"Preventative screening for these variants should become part of the standard of care," Lawrence Steinman, MD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences, pediatrics and genetics at Stanford (Calif.) University, said in the report. He was not involved in the study.

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