Jan 25, 2004
The Sunday Times
PATIENTS suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), the incurable wasting disease, have experienced dramatic improvements in their condition after taking part in trials of a drug derived from goat serum.
Some have reported being able to cast aside their walking sticks and walk for miles, or of regaining their vision or finding they can again use their limbs after years when any movement was agony. Of the 130 patients on the trial, 85% reported big improvements with no side effects.
Among them is Billy Edmiston, of Southsea, who was diagnosed with MS in 1988. “At the time of my first injections 15 months ago I was using walking sticks and sometimes a wheelchair. I started this treatment with no expectations but it has been astonishing,” he said.
“I am 500% better than I was. I can walk for several miles without sticks. I’m much stronger and generally healthier. And you have to remember that we have always been told that there may be remissions, but that the progress of the disease is unstoppable.”
The success of the trials has started to gain international recognition with Alan Osmond, one of America’s leading campaigners about the disease, travelling from the US to take the drug.
Osmond, the eldest member of the Osmonds singing group, who was diagnosed with the disease 17 years ago, said: “When I heard about the treatment here I decided I would have to come and see for myself.”
MS is the most common chronic disease of the central nervous system in young adults, affecting millions of people worldwide. Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 and famous sufferers include the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, the actor Richard Pryor, director Bryan Forbes and Tory whip David Maclean.
An often progressive disease of the central nervous system, MS occurs in the brain, the optic nerves and the spinal cord. Though slow in its onset, in time it may produce tremors, partial loss of sight and paralysis.
The new treatment is being pioneered by a team of scientists and doctors led by Professor Angus Dalgleish, an oncologist based at St George’s hospital, Tooting, south London, who believes it will at worst provide a highly effective subjective treatment for MS sufferers, but may lead to a long-term improvement.
The treatment, given as a weekly injection, is derived from purified serum from immunised goats that produce antibodies. Three separate clinical trials are now being conducted.
Normally it would have taken about eight years and about £80m to get a new product to this stage. In this case it has been achieved in three years, having cost so far about £5m.
Dr David Maizels, a family doctor from Chiselhurst in Kent who had been treating patients in the “informed consent” trials for the past three years, said he had never seen anything like it.
“I want to emphasise that this is not a placebo effect. The improvements are sustained and there are almost no side effects. At times the results are amazing,” he said.
The trials, the first of which should be completed and analysed by the spring, will confirm whether there will be new hope for MS sufferers worldwide.
“Being positive is the key thing,” said Osmond. “It’s not the disease
that beats you, but the lack of hope.”
© Copyright 2004, The Sunday Times