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New Treatments Bring Hope to Multiple Sclerosis Sufferers

October 24, 2008 04:16 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
An experimental drug and a standard leukemia drug both show promise in advancing the treatment of MS, according to two new studies.

Drug May Halt Advance of MS

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Two separate studies examined the usefulness of the experimental drug oral fumarate, and the leukemia drug alemtuzumab, in treating multiple sclerosis, reported Forbes magazine.

The standard leukemia drug alemtuzumab, or Campath, in particular may be “the most promising and most significant MS treatment yet discovered,” reported Voice of America, as it seems to halt the disease in its early stages and repair damaged functioning in patients.

“The ability of an MS drug to promote brain repair is unprecedented,” said Alasdair Coles of Cambridge University, who worked on the alemtuzumab study, according to Forbes. “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.”

Multiple sclerosis
, a chronic disease of the central nervous system, affects about 300,000 people in the United States. The disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the insulating layer of tissue that protects nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms of the disease include muscle weakness, blurred vision, impaired walking, depression and paralysis.

In a three-year study involving 334 subjects at Cambridge University, alemtuzumab was found to be about 70 percent more effective in treating the disease than interferon beta, the standard MS drug already in wide use. But patients also suffered serious side effects, such as bleeding disorders, an increased risk of thyroid disease and infections, and scientists say more research must be done before it can be prescribed to treat the disease. The drug temporarily depletes white blood cells and is part of a group of drugs called monoclonal antibodies.

The study found that the treatment caused brain lesions to disappear and brain volume to grow, according to MRIs performed on study participants. Tony Johnson, a patient in the study, was able to continue playing professional golf after the treatment and is now winning tournaments, reported New Scientist.

“We give them this drug and three years later, they are more able to do their work. They are more able to look after their family,” Coles said to VOA. “They are more able to play the sports that they enjoyed. And that is what this drug alemtuzumab has given to them.”

Oral fumarate, or BG00012, was found to reduce symptoms in patients that had relapsing-remitting MS, according to a clinical trial conducted by European and North American researchers. A study published in the Oct. 24 issue of the Lancet examined the effect of varying amounts of the drug or a placebo on 257 adult patients. MRI brain scans afterward showed that those who received 240 milligrams of the drug three times a day eventually had less inflammatory activity and fewer lesions associated with MS than those who received a placebo, but they were also more likely to suffer side effects. Long-term studies of the drug involving larger patient samples are now underway.

Reference: Alemtuzumab

Related Topic: Terminally ill cancer patient denied potentially lifesaving drug

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