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Drug 'stops MS from advancing'
[Posted: Thu 23/10/2008 by Deborah Condon www.irishhealth.com]
A drug developed in the UK, which was initially designed to treat a form of leukaemia, appears to be effective in treating multiple sclerosis (MS).
MS is a condition which affects the brain and spinal cord. It is characterised by a slowly progressing disablement. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland, most people with MS start off with the relapsing remitting type (RRMS). This means they have attacks followed by remissions. During remissions, they may have fewer or no symptoms. Relapses tend to be unpredictable and their causes are unclear.
Now researchers from the University of Cambridge have said that the drug, alemtuzumab, not only stops MS from advancing in patients with early stage active RRMS, it may also restore lost function caused by the disease.
The phase 2 clinical study involved 334 patients with early stage RRMS, who were monitored for a three-year period. During this time, the drug was found to reduce the number of attacks experienced by people with RRMS by 74% over and above that achieved by one of the most effective licensed therapies available for similar cases of MS. It was also found to reduce the risk of sustained accumulation of disability by 71% compared to the other therapy.
The researchers also found that many individuals in the trial who received the drug recovered some of their lost functions and so were less disabled after three years than at the beginning of the study. Those on the established therapy experienced a worsening of their disabilities.
‘Alemtuzumab is the most promising experimental drug for the treatment of MS and we are hopeful that the next trials will confirm that it can both stabilise and allow some recovery of what had previously been assumed to be irreversible disabilities,” said principal investigator, Prof Alastair Compston of the University of Cambridge.
Meanwhile according to Dr Alasdair Coles, who coordinated much of the study, the ability of an MS drug to promote brain repair ‘is unprecedented’.
“We are witnessing a drug which, if given early enough, might effectively stop the advancement of the disease and also restore lost function by promoting repair of the damaged brain tissue,” Dr Coles pointed out.
However the researchers warned that the main side effect of treatment is that people can develop other autoimmune diseases as the immune system gradually recovers following exposure to alemtuzumab.
During the trial, 20% of people treated with the drug developed an over or under active thyroid gland, while 3% developed a low platelet count and were vulnerable to bleeding. This complication led to one fatality during the trial. However the researchers said that while this is potentially very serious, this complication can be easily treated if recognised early.
Details of the study are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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