Tuesday March 5, 05:50 PM
Tests are set to begin in the US on a new gene-based drug for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.
Australia's estimated 10,000-20,000 MS suffers do not yet have access to antisense drugs, which work by entering cells and targeting specific genes.
The new drug, ATL 1102 is being developed by US company Antisense Therapeutics, which specialises in drugs that block the protein-producing activity of specific genes.
ATL 1102 targets an immune cell protein that has been shown to contribute to the onset of Multiple Sclerosis.
The agent was set to begin pre-clinical toxicology studies to determine the drug's safety for human use by the end of March, the company said in a statement.
If initial studies were successful Antisense hoped to begin studies on volunteers in the first half of 2003.
Dr John King of the Royal Melbourne Hospital's neurology department said four conventional MS drugs were currently available in Australia under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
A new drug, Antegren, was entering two-year trials.
Dr King said antisense drugs could be helpful in treating MS, however, it was likely to be three to ten years before ATL 1102 became available here.
"I think we would accept that there's a significant genetic component to MS but the exact gene responsible hasn't been identified and we think there may be numerous genes involved," he said.
Multiple sclerosis is a life-long chronic disease which attacks and progressively destroys the central nervous system.
It affects adults, predominately women, between the ages of 20 and 40.
MS causes damage and deterioration of the covering surrounding nerve fibres in the central nervous system and results in a slowing down or blockage of the flow of messages from the nerves to the brain.
Symptoms can include loss of balance
and co-ordination, diminished vision, weakness of limbs, extreme fatigue,
impaired speech and loss of bladder control.
Copyright © 2002, AAP