More MS news articles for Oct 2001

MS hope as new drug is tested

Oct 29th, 2001

THE first treatment for the most devastating form of multiple sclerosis may be provided by a drug which is undergoing three-year trials involving almost 1000 patients.

There is no treatment available for those with primary progressive MS, who make up about 15% of all people with the illness.

Unlike the relapsing form of MS, characterised by episodes of illness interspersed by periods of recovery, it causes continuous and increasingly more crippling disability.

Scotland has one of the world's worst records for the percentage of people crippled by MS and access to treatment of the condition has been described in the past as resembling a lottery.

Earlier this year, JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, was reported to be outraged at the shortage of MS nurses north of the border.

Her mother, Anne, died from the disease in 1990, 10 years after being diagnosed with it. Rowling is now patron of the MS Society Scotland, one of whose volunteer members said yesterday that any advance in the treatment of any aspect of the illness was to be welcomed.

Jan Malesa, from Kirkwall in Orkney, whose wife, Wendy, has suffered MS for 20 years, said: "Anything that can promote the well-being of people with MS must be looked upon positively."

The drug now being tested for primary progressive MS is Copaxone (glatiramer acetate). It has already proved highly effective in treating relapsing MS.

It was introduced in the UK last December as an alternative to beta interferon drugs used to reduce the number of relapses suffered by patients and improve their quality of life.

Nothing yet exists which can cure any form of MS and although beta interferons can help relapsing patients they have no effect against the primary progressive disease.

However, Copaxone has been shown in studies on mice to slow down the rate of deterioration in progressive MS.

The drug, which is based on three natural amino acids, is now being given to 900 primary progressive patients in the UK, US and France.

Three UK centres are involved in the trial at the Institute of Neurology in London, Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Dr Phil Wood, medical director at Teva Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Copaxone, who is helping to co-ordinate the trials, said: "In studies on mouse models, Copaxone has been shown to be effective.

"Of course, mice are not people but if this drug works in the way we hope, it will be extremely significant.

"It would be the only treatment shown to bring any benefit in this very unpleasant type of MS and to offer hope to people who now have no access to any treatment. That would be very important.

"This disease devastates lives. People with MS deserve treatment and I think living in the UK, the fourth or fifth most wealthy country, we surely should be able to treat them."