MS news articles for December 2000
of Research Progress - 2000
This has been another
exciting year for MS research. Thanks to funds provided by its chapters
and private donors, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society was able to
spend a record $27 million to support research programs in 2000. Since
its founding 54 years ago, the Society has invested over $290 million to
find the cause, treatments and cure for MS.
During the year,
our volunteer scientific advisors reviewed 275 MS research proposals and
approved 117 as being of high scientific merit and relevance and thus warranting
the Society's support. New funding commitments totaling $3.4 million were
made in the targeted research areas of gender differences, genetics, and
The MS Lesion Project. The Society now has over $40 million in current
and future commitments to over 300 MS research projects, for which money
must be raised.
have been made in both laboratory and clinical studies in MS. As the world's
largest private supporter of MS research, the Society has been at the core
of many of these advances during 2000.
Key highlights include:
The U.S. FDA approved
Novantrone® (mitoxantrone for injection concentrate) "for reducing
neurologic disability and/or the frequency of clinical relapses" in people
with secondary-progressive MS, progressive-relapsing MS, or worsening relapsing-remitting
MS. This is the first drug approved in the U.S. for treating secondary-progressive
MS. The Society funded some of the first studies of Novantrone in laboratory
rodents with the MS-like disease EAE, which helped move this agent into
National MS Society-supported
investigators at Mayo Clinic reported success in promoting the regrowth
of myelin in mice with MS-like disease by injecting them with immune-system
proteins called "monoclonal antibodies." Additional research is ongoing
in advance of possible clinical trials in humans with MS.
The Society convened
an international task force to refine and improve diagnostic procedures
to reflect our better understanding of MS and advances in technology, especially
MRI. A consensus publication laying out new guidelines for diagnosing MS
is in preparation, which is anticipated to be widely adopted by the medical
The first large clinical
trial of an experimental oral therapy for MS began in the spring. The "CORAL"
trial, conducted by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, is testing an oral
form of Copaxone® in 1300 people with relapsing-remitting MS over 56
weeks to determine whether it can reduce the rate of MS relapses. Another
study involving Copaxone, led by University of Maryland researchers, suggested
that over six years of therapy, Copaxone continues to have positive effects
against relapsing-remitting MS.
Two separate clinical
trials testing two forms of interferon beta-1a (Avonex® and Rebif®)
suggested that both drugs delayed development of clinically definite MS,
when compared with placebo, in individuals with first signs of demyelinating
disease who are at risk for developing clinically definite MS.
An international team
reported results of a study of nerve tissue samples taken from people with
MS, identifying four distinct categories of MS based on the appearance
of brain lesions, or areas of myelin destruction. To follow up, the Society
launched "The MS Lesion Project," a five-year, $1.8 million international
research project to correlate clinical manifestations of MS and findings
from MRI and brain tissue samples. This targeted research initiative, centered
at Mayo Clinic, is the largest grant awarded in the history of the Society.
Researchers at Cleveland
Clinic and elsewhere showed that treatment with Avonex had beneficial effects
on a number of cognitive functions among people with relapsing MS.
announced mixed results from its North American clinical trial of Betaseron®
for secondary-progressive MS. In the study, the drug failed to slow progression
of disability but did reduce annual relapse rates and accumulation of brain
lesions detected by MRI. The company submitted results from these and from
a more successful European trial to the FDA for consideration for approval
to expand Betaseron's use to people with secondary-progressive MS.
A small study testing
the ability of oral modafinil (Provigil) to fight fatigue, a common and
potentially disabling symptom of MS, showed promising results in MS. Modafinil
is currently FDA-approved for the treatment of narcolepsy.
Investigators in the
U.S. and the United Kingdom reported that several derivatives of marijuana,
called cannabinoids, could temporarily relieve spasticity and tremor in
mice with MS-like disease. A large-scale trial of capsules containing extracts
of marijuana and its component THC is now underway in Britain to determine
whether is can help control spasiticity in people with different forms
This fruitful year has
brought us closer to achieving our goal: to end the devastating effects
of multiple sclerosis.
The Society convened
an international task force of clinicians, statisticians, ethicists and
regulators to generate ethical guidelines for the use of placebos in MS
clinical trials. They concluded that placebo-controlled clinical trials
in forms of MS for which partially effective therapies exist are ethical,
so long as study subjects are fully apprised of the availability of such
therapies and are encouraged to take them.