Is Lemtrada (Alemtuzumab) Chemotherapy?

When I was first thinking about using Lemtrada for treating my Multiple Sclerosis this was the first question that came to mind. So many people told me that yes, Lemtrada was chemo. Then a bunch of people started telling me that no, it wasn’t! I could not seem to find a straight answer but I did find that a lot of people were asking this question too! I joined a huge Facebook group for people who had done Lemtrada, were going to do it and people who were just thinking about it. All the moderators (the people who ran the group) insisted that it was not a type of chemo despite all the facts I had gathered while trying to answer my own question. I was told that they did not want anyone to associate Lemtrada with chemo because it “might scare people”. Well, I was not happy with such an answer; I don’t censor the truth to satisfy someone’s agenda… That will only hurt people so I left the group because I felt that spreading the word on what they believed was a disservice to people with Multiple Sclerosis. I feel people should know all the facts when treating themselves with a new medication.

So, is Lemtrada a chemotherapy? Well, yes and no… Lemtrada is NOT the stereotypical chemo that was discovered after World War I thanks to mustard gas. It’s not the nasty poison that is commonly associated with feeling like you are dying while you constantly throw up. That is what people are afraid will scare others away from Lemtrada, but that is not what Lemtrada is. You have to pay close attention to how I word this, it’s not the hardcore chemotherapy people tend to associate with cancer, it’s a TYPE of chemotherapy.

What does that mean? Well to answer that let’s look at how defines “chemo”.

“Sometimes referred to simply as ‘chemo’, chemotherapy is used most often to describe drugs that kill cancer cells directly. These are sometimes referred to as “anti-cancer” drugs or ‘antineoplastics.’ Other chemo drugs such as biologic response modifiers, hormone therapy, and monoclonal antibodies, which work in different ways to treat cancer, are included in this web-site.”

As you can see, “monoclonal antibody” is on the list and Lemtrada (Alemtuzumab) is a monoclonal antibody that was originally developed under the name “Campath” to treat B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL), which is a cancer of the blood. A monoclonal antibody is just a targeted therapy, it attacks specific cells instead of pretty much everything like the stereotypical type of chemo that people usually think of when they hear “chemo”. I like the analogy that a monoclonal antibody (like Lemtrada) is like a smart bomb where the “stereotypical” chemotherapy is like an atomic bomb. Smart bombs attack very specific “enemies” doing very specific damage where an atomic bomb just destroys everything without prejudice.

Fun fact, when you see a drug like Alemtuzumab that ends in “mab” it is a monoclonal antibody; “mab” stands for Monoclonal Anti-Body. Not all monoclonal antibodies are for treating cancer; Tysabri (Natilizumab) is also a monoclonal antibody and that treats Multiple Sclerosis and Crohn’s disease, not cancer)

So it’s sort of a technicality; was it used to treat cancer? Yes, at a higher dose for a longer period of time. Does it fit the definition of chemotherapy? Yes, and not just on, remember, whenever someone says, “targeted therapy” they are talking about a monoclonal antibody and that is what Lemtrada is. Is it the scary chemotherapy that people usually think of when they hear someone talking about chemo for cancer? No, it is not the same chemical and when used for MS it is not used at a high enough dose for a long enough period of time to even treat a cancer like B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia so if you are thinking about trying Lemtrada to treat your MS you can stop worrying that “it is chemo and going to affect you the same way as people treating cancer”.

I hope this helps answer your question,

Matt Allen G

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2010 at the age of 20. It's been a battle ever since and I have always shared my story and struggles online!

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